For all the ink, pixels, and tears spilled over the trials and tribulations of the Dodger rotation (Billingsley hurt his leg! Kuroda missed two months and just took a liner off the head! Kershaw’s great but young!) it’s about time that we recognize the one member of the top four who really should have been the most likely to get hurt: Randy Wolf.
Back in January, it looked as though the Dodgers were going to sign one of Wolf, Jon Garland, and Braden Looper. At the time, my preference was actually for Garland, when I said:
Really, it comes down to the differences that Wolf and Garland can offer you. Wolf is probably the more talented pitcher, and if he’s healthy and on his game he’s a better option than Garland. But on the other hand, if these are the three guys you’re choosing from, you don’t need an ace. With the other questions in the rotation, you want a guy who you know can pick up innings. Between Billingsley’s leg and big innings increase, Kuroda’s shoulder, and Kershaw’s youth, there’s no one we can say will almost definitely give us 200 innings. Garland, by all accounts, can. They won’t be great innings, but league-average innings do carry value. So when one of those three hits the DL – and trust me, one will – I’d rather know we have a steady horse like Garland than a question mark like Wolf.
I think that point of view has been proven to be a fair one, considering the fact that we’re all still groaning over starting pitching innings. But the key point there is when I said, “Wolf is probably the more talented pitcher, and if he’s healthy and on his game he’s a better option than Garland.” That said, with his history of arm injuries and bizarre 2008 of “awesome in Houston/terrible in San Diego”, how could you possibly have counted on him?
Well, Wolf’s really been great beyond our wildest dreams so far in 2009, and he’s really done it very quietly – mostly, I would think, due to his pedestrian 7-6 record thanks to a criminal lack of run support. (Reason #1283901883 why wins are useless for pitchers!) It’s true that his fantastic outing today (7.2 IP, 10 K, 3 ER – 20 set down in a row at one point – plus 3 hits, including a two-run homer) is the impetus for this point, but let’s not shortsell him by only talking about his big day today.
I was shocked to see this, but Randy Wolf has become a horse. He’s tied for the NL lead in starts, and he’s gone at least 6 innings 10 times in a row and in 23 of his 26 starts in 2009. Believe it or not, Wolf, of all people, has now launched himself into the top 5 of NL innings leaders this year, and he’s 14th in the NL in strikeouts (giving the Dodgers 3 of the top 14, incidentally).
If Randy Wolf had done his normal “be decent for a few months, then go on the DL for a few months” routine, I honestly don’t know what the Dodgers would have done. You can talk all you want about “aces”, whether the Dodgers have any, and whether they should have gone after one before the deadline; Randy Wolf’s no ace, but he’s become a solid, effective, innings-eater, who you know will be available every 5th day and give you 6-7 innings of quality work. That is what pennants are built on. (And no, I still can’t believe I just called Randy Wolf “a horse”. Frogs, falling from the skies!)