Wellemeyer: 2008 Career Highs Good or Bad?

St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Todd Wellemeyer reached career highs in a number of categories in 2008. How might that affect his 2009 salary drive season?

St. Louis Cardinals right-handed pitcher Todd Wellemeyer made his last start of the 2008 season on Saturday, September 27th, a game in which he was the winning pitcher.  During the FOX Sports Midwest's post-game "Cardinals Live" show that evening, Wellemeyer mentioned that the 191.2 innings he pitched this season were his career high. 


That comment motivated me to a) compare his 2008 stats with the other members of the Cardinals' rotation and b) look into just how his career high in innings pitched may have impacted those stats.


So, how did Wellemeyer's 2008 performance compare with his rotation mates? 


Well, first we need to clarify which starters are being compared.  While there were several pitchers that made spot starts, this comparison is between the four principal pitchers comprising the Cardinals' rotation along with Wellemeyer for the majority of the year:  Kyle Lohse, Braden Looper, Joel Pineiro and Adam Wainwright.


Now let us look at several different categories:


Innings Pitched

Wellemeyer's career high of 191.2 innings pitched was a close third on the staff behind leader Lohse (200) and Looper's 199.



Wellemeyer had a 1.25 WHIP, which is a Major League best for him and placed him second behind Wainwright's 1.18 WHIP. 


H/9 IP

Wellemeyer's 8.36 H/9 IP was barely second behind Wainwright's 8.32 H/9 IP.  Wellemeyer and Wainwright were the only two starters that allowed less than a hit per inning pitched.



Control has been one of Wellemeyer's bugaboos and his average of 2.91 walks per nine innings pitched placed him fifth among the five starters.  (Wainwright was fourth with a 2.32 BB/9 IP average.)  However, this average is a career best for Wellemeyer and is more than a walk per game better than his career average through 2007.


K/9 IP

Wellemeyer led the staff both in total strikeouts (134) and average strikeouts per nine innings (6.29).  The latter number edged out Wainwright's 6.20 K/9 IP. 


It is no coincidence that Wellemeyer and Wainwright also have the lowest Air-Out-to-Ground-Out ratios on the staff, 0.83 for Wellemeyer and 1.22 for Wainwright, since there is a general correlation between fly ball pitchers and strikeout pitchers.  There also tends to be a correlation between fly ball pitchers and home runs allowed.  (However, Pineiro led the rotation in both AO/GO ratio – 1.83 – and home runs allowed per game – 1.32.  When he lost it, he lost it.)  But I digress.


Hitters' Batting Stats

Average – Wellemeyer held the opposition to a .245 batting average, which tied him for first with staff ace Wainwright.  Both Wellemeyer and Wainwright were almost thirty points better than the next best starting pitcher, Kyle Lohse and his .272 BAA.


On-Base Average

Wellemeyer allowed base runners at an average rate of .308, which was good for second place behind Wainwright.



Despite giving up the second-most home runs/game (1.20), Wellemeyer held opposing batters to a .416 slugging percentage which was good for second place behind Wainwright.



So, Wellemeyer had a pretty good year in many statistical categories.  Now let us look at his performance when compared to his cumulative innings pitched for the season.


Below are Wellemeyer's cumulative innings pitched (major and minor) from the time of his Major League debut in 2003 through last season:


2003* = 115 innings

2004 = 46.1 innings

2005 = 86 innings

2006 = 78.1 innings

2007 = 80.1 innings


*Wellemeyer started exclusively in the minors and only became a reliever upon his Major League debut.  The 2003 season was the last time he started consistently until the 2008 season.


Looking at Wellemeyer's 2008 performance on a month-by-month basis, his overall performance was seriously impacted by his June and July numbers.  When reviewing his game log, a few things stand out. 


Wellemeyer started only three games in June due to arm ouchiness.  He had an excellent start against the Nationals on June 5th in which he posted a game score of 66 and lowered his Earned Run Average to 2.92.  Wellemeyer had pitched 80 innings through June 5th or within six innings of his Major League high of 86 innings for an entire season.  His next start was pushed back a couple of days to June 13th due to arm soreness.  Wellemeyer then had a true ‘Friday, the 13th' outing in Philadelphia where he gave up eight earned runs in only 3.1 innings for a game score of 12.  He did not pitch again until June 26th, almost two weeks later.  Wellemeyer faced the Tigers in Detroit and pitched well enough to win with a game score of 62, blanking the Tigers through five innings.  He had pitched 88.1 innings through the end of June, his most innings in five seasons.


As the calendar turned to July, Wellemeyer took his regular turn in the rotation the entire month.  Entering new territory in innings pitched as a major leaguer, Wellemeyer posted five consecutive starts with game scores of 50 or below (19, 40, 50, 42, 46).  His opponents included such noteworthy teams as Pittsburgh and San Diego.  Beginning with his July 29th start, he then posted game scores above 50 in nine of his ten starts (52, 62, 54, 72, 52, 41, 69, 66, 55, 56).  That included a game score of 62 against his nemesis Philadelphia on August 3rd. 


While a definitive reason for his mid-season drop-off cannot be given, it is entirely possible that Wellemeyer went through a ‘dead arm' phase due to his switch from relieving to starting.  His performance took a marked upturn beginning on July 29th, an upswing that was sustained well into September. 


What does this bode for Wellemeyer's future performance?  That is impossible to say.  He pitched well over his previous career-high in innings, which can be an indicator of future arm issues.  However, this increase occurred when Wellemeyer was 29 years old, which is well after the age range (25 and under) that has been used as a precursor for arm injuries due to a significant workload increase.  


Wellemeyer's 2008 season exceeded his previous standards in most categories.  Whether he is likely to either match or exceed those numbers in 2009 is open to question.  However, Wellemeyer may become a free agent after the 2009 season and his 2008 performance may be enough for the Cardinals to try and lock him into a two- or three-year contract that buys out his initial free agency years. 


Time will tell.



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