Another shitty Cubs season in review: Randy Wells

The 2011 Cubs posted the 109th worst winning percentage in its history. What’s really depressing about that is since I’ve been a fan the following Cubs teams have been as bad or worse: 1986, 1983, 1994, 1997, 2002, 1999, 2006, 2000, 1980, and 1981. Of the Cubs 137 year history, 11 teams have had a .438 winning percentage or lower. Of the teams as bad or worse than the 2011 group, of which there have only been 28, 39.3% of them have occurred since I became a fan. Almost 40%!

The Cubs were 62 points below .500. 11 teams have been as bad or worse than that since 1980. If we look at .562 or better Cubs teams, only the 2008 and 1989 teams have been that good. That’s it. 11 have been at least 62 points below .500 and only 2 have been as good or better than 62 points above .500.

The 2008 Cubs had the 21st best winning percentage in club history. This includes years like 1880 in which the Cubs were 67-17-2. The top 3 seasons in club history were between 1876 and 1885. Of the top 10 best seasons 6 of them occurred before 1900. The second best Cubs team in my life was the 1989 Cubs. They had the 35th best winning percentage in club history. Then there’s the 1998 Cubs at 45th. This is a team that didn’t even win the division. Of the top 50 Cubs teams ever, only 5 of them occurred since 1980.

Basically, the Cubs have sucked in my lifetime. Not just sucked, but really really sucked. Many of the club’s worst seasons in history have happened since I became a fan. It was no surprise that the 2011 Cubs would be one of those teams. Entering the season I thought 75 wins was about where they’d end up. I wouldn’t have been surprised with as few as 65 wins or as many as 85 wins. That’s just baseball, but in terms of talent this was about a 75 win club entering the season. The difference in 4 games from what was projected and how they ended is in large part due to the injuries the Cubs suffered early in the season. Andrew Cashner would not make another start and would not reappear after his first start until late in the season. Randy Wells would return sooner than that, but he was absent for about two months. You can find the 4 wins there.

Other than those two injuries, the Cubs were mostly healthy. They had the occasional injury here and there, but what team doesn’t? They didn’t have another key player miss significant time because of injury. Carlos Zambrano would miss significant time for other reasons. The Cubs didn’t really have any breakout seasons. Starlin Castro didn’t hit 18 home runs and have a .370 wOBA. He improved, which is all we wanted to see. Matt Garza got off to a horrible start and after settling in he threw better than expected. Ryan Dempster threw worse than expected. Aramis Ramirez had a great season. Alfonso Soriano had a great first month or two and then disappeared. Geovany Soto never got going. Carlos Pena did what we expected and the guys who filled in for Wells and Cashner also did what we expected.

This team, for the most part, was exactly what we expected.

I last wrote about Carlos Marmol as what was kind of a season in review. Seems like it’s a good idea to just keep going so we’ll talk about Randy Wells season next.

Randy-Wells-reviewRandy Wells (Fangraphs, B-Ref)

Wells had a breakout season in 2009 leading many to think he was going to put together a very good career. His 3.05 ERA that season was misleading. He actually allowed 3.65 runs per 9 innings (RA). A typical pitcher witha  3.05 ERA would have had a 3.25 RA. Several of the runs he allowed were classified as unearned resulting in the low ERA. Furthermore, he stranded 76% of the runners on base, had a low BABIP and a low HR/FB rate. His FIP was closer to 4 (still very good) and his xFIP was 4.18 (still better than average). His tERA was 4.2 and his SIERA was 4.33. His OPS allowed that season was .680, but with men on base it was .641. We’ve talked about sequencing before, and how it impacts a player’s runs allowed. This is just another example. Wells kept the runs off the board and that’s all that matters for that season, but as far as predicting future performance, we have to eliminate as much of the luck as possible. There was simply no reason to think that Wells could hold batters to a much lower OPS with men on than overall.

His ERA jumped to 4.26 the following year (almost identical to the ERA predictors from the year before). His FIP remained what it was in 2009 and his xFIP even lowered. He threw about 30 more innings and was a more valuable pitcher, but the idea of him being a very good pitcher had worn off. In fact, fans were very disappointed with Wells season a year ago and there was even a thought about taking him out of the rotation, which was utter nonsense. He had pitched as well in 2010 as he did the year before. The luck was the difference.

This year, though, he did not have a good season at all. After his start on April 4th against the Diamondbacks in which he went 6 and allowed only 1 run he didn’t make another appearance until May 28th. His ERA jumped even more this season. It was 4.99 and unlike the previous two years in which his FIP was around 3.9, it had jumped over 5. His xFIP was in the 4.4 range, but given the offense this year that’s below average. tERA has him at an awful 5.73.

The biggest difference this year is that Wells allowed fewer ground balls than ever before. This means he’d have to allow more line drives or flyballs or a combination of the two. His LD% was the exact same as the year before, but his FB% increased 33.3% (in 2009 and 2010) to 37.9%. More fly balls means more home runs allowed. 13.8% of the fly balls hit off of Wells were home runs. We typically expect about 10% so some of that was obviously just bad luck. Still, he’s as much responsible for those runs in one season’s performance as he was for the fortunate luck he had in 2009. Wells gave up more fly balls and more of the fly balls left the park. That’s not a good formula for success.

His K/9 had jumped a full strikeout per 9 more from 2009 to 2010, but in 2011 it dropped to below his 2009 figure. His walk rate was also the highest in his career. He had a 7.0% walk rate in 2009 and 15.1% strikeout rate. For the walk rate I’ve included hit by pitch and have subtracted IBB from both the batters faced and free passes. For strikeout rate I subtrated IBB from total batters faced. In 2010 the BB% increased to 7.6%, but the strikeout rate jumped to 17.2%. This past season the BB% increased a bit more to 7.8% and the K% fell to 14.2%.

More batters have reached via the free pass each year and more batters were putting the ball in play. Of those additional balls in play, many more of them have been fly balls this year than in the past and to make it even worse, a lot more of the fly balls have left the yard.

Overall impression: Wells season is a bit surprising, but at the same time it’s not. He’s not a strikeout pitcher, though he’s shown above average control. By keeping the ball on the ground he’s been effective despite the low strikeout rate. He had a disappointing season and he’d be the first to say it. He no doubt expects more out of himself than he provided this year. Some of the reasons for his poor performance are luck related. Others are not. I expected a better season, but he’s also the kind of guy whose stats aren’t overwhelming and maybe it’s just me, but those guys seem to fall off a cliff a lot sooner than the good ones do.

Next year: I don’t think Randy Wells returns to what he did in 2009 or 2010, but I’m relatively certain that he’ll be better than he was this year. He might not be league average, but unless the Cubs find themselves with a lot more starting pitchers than they currently have he’ll be in the rotation. Quade stuck with him all season when it would have been easy to relegate him to the bullpen. The Cubs will have a new manager, but the absence of starting pitchers better than Randy Wells means he’ll get another chance. He’ll be arbitration eligible and thanks to a disappointing 2011 and an inflated ERA in 2010, he won’t be paid much next year. I’d guess $1 million and maybe even something like $850,000. For that money, he’ll easily be worth what he’s being paid.