Like Kosuke Fukudome in 2008, Randy Wells brought the Cubs a sixth-place finish in National League Rookie of the Year voting in 2009. Wells blew away expectations, winning 12 games and posting a sparkling 3.05 ERA in 27 starts. Without him, Chicago likely would not even have managed the 83 wins they achieved.
Wells is interesting, though, because he does not excel at any one thing. Yes, he gets right-handed batters out with excellent aplomb (witness the .575 OPS they had against him last season, 40 percent better than the average Major League hurler against right-handers), but he does so using a mixture of skills.
Wells keeps the ball on the ground—he induced 44 percent more ground balls than flies last year, a good recipe for success in the friendly confines of Wrigley Field. He also has good control, walking just 2.50 batters per nine innings for the season. He does not, however, strike batters out. In 165 1/3 innings, Wells struck out only 104 batters. For a man with one of the league's best sliders , that inability to miss bats is tough to explain.
Meanwhile, Wells has a few somewhat glaring weaknesses. Left-handed hitters mashed him, to the tune of .310/.367/.439. Those numbers are 36 percent worse than his overall statistics. Those struggles stem from his below-average change-up, a pitch upon which he must improve if he hopes to get batters out regardless of handedness next season.
Wells also has trouble settling in, as evidenced by opponent OPS totals 20 percent above Wells' normal allowances the first time through the order. In the first 25 pitches of each start, Wells surrendered an .828 OPS; from pitch 26 to pitch 50, that number collapsed to .586. Pitches 51-75 saw batters' OPS stay very low, at .674, and then it fell even further from pitch 76 to pitch 100; a fabulous .569.
That ability to settle in and get batters out later in the game is valuable, but it does make Wells vulnerable. It is tragic too, because if it could be fixed, Wells would be a perfect candidate to fill Chicago's currently vacancy in the right-handed set-up role. He profiles very well as a reliever, with his dominant slider and huge platoon splits.
Nonetheless, he will be a part of Chicago's starting rotation, so let us now look at some projected numbers for him in that role:
-30 starts, 5 relief appearances
With numbers like those, Wells would remain one of the National League's better fourth starters. With a little luck, he could win a dozen or more games again.
Watch for other profiles of the 2010 Cubs, which I will be doing throughout the remainder of the offseason. Here are some of the ones already done, and some on the way soon!