The Giants’ poor luck in San Diego continued yesterday when the Padres beat the Giants 5-2 for the series sweep. Jon Garland pitched 7 innings and was never really challenged at any point during the game. Todd Wellemeyer, on the other hand, didn’t fare as well, throwing 87 pitches in 4 innings while walking 4 batters.
Here’s a PFX plot for Wellemeyer based on the location of all his pitches.
Notice the large amount of pitches up in the zone. While watching the game on TV it was clear that Wellemeyer was having trouble keeping the ball down. He was constantly missing up and when he did pitch in strike zone, most of his pitches were in the upper half of the zone. We can also get a feel for how he was pitching, in regards to how high he was missing, with the next graph. It’s pitch height frequency.
This graph mirrors the one above. You can see the top and bottom of the strike zone — the rule book zone, not what was being called — and Wellemeyer was indeed having trouble keeping the ball down. It’s drastically different from someone that’s trying to pitch down in the zone. Pitching up in the zone has benefits — you’re more likely to get strike outs — but Wellemeyer isn’t a strike out pitcher (career K/9 of 6.77, a majority of that was from his time in the bullpen and relievers strike out more batters than starters) and I’m not sure his stuff plays up in the zone. His fastball was for the most part between 89-90 mph in San Diego.
This most likely won’t be the last time we see Wellemeyer have control problems. For his career, he’s walked 4.43 batters per 9 and while that’s not *terrible*, he doesn’t have any other skills (GB%, K/9, etc.) to counter his poor control. For example, Jonathan Sanchez has a career BB/9 of 4.62 but that comes with a K/9 rate of well over 9 Ks per 9 innings. Wellemeyer’s success with the Giants will come down to the defense that plays behind him and at this point in the season, I think the Giants are going to have defensive problems down the road. The infield is full of below-average infielders (Sandoval, Huff, Molina) and when you’re best defender might be Edgar Renteria, you’re probably in trouble. The OF should be OK, but Velez is usually good for a few what-the-heck plays on the season.
In baseball, you’ll see the following phrase a lot: “Team X needs a better 5th starter.” The truth is that 5th starters are a collection of bad pitchers. Rarely does anyone pitch well out of the 5th starter spot and it’s generally not just a single pitcher making 30+ starts in a season, but a collection of bullpen guys, AAA pitchers, and guys like Todd Wellemeyer. Of course, with the Giants and their offense, you could make the argument that the team needs to maximize every rotation slot — and I don’t think I could argue with you — but across baseball, the 5th starter player-group just isn’t good. It’s something to remind yourself when Todd Wellemeyer is getting blown out by the Padres on a Wednesday afternoon.