You don't want Wolf on your team when he reverts back to Michael J. Fox. Photo: Kelly Doster
Among fantasy baseball's most added players over the last week is veteran starter Randy Wolf. He has only allowed two earned runs in his last four outings and currently stands tall with a sharp 2.39 ERA and 1.12 WHIP with 33 strikeouts to 10 walks in 37.2 innings.
However, this is not the lone Wolf you want to invest in heavily this season.
Coming off of a 4.17 ERA, 1.63 K/BB season in 2011, Wolf was all but written off as a veteran who's tendency to give up the long-ball would only continue to worsen in the hitter friendly environment of Milwaukee. After being tagged for six earned runs in his 2011 debut, those sediments seemed more legitimate than ever. However, Wolf has gone on to have five straight quality outings and seems to have won the hearts of at least some fantasy GM's.
There are two major problems with trusting Wolf going forward. First, his recent performances haven't exactly come against potent offensive ballclubs. After getting rocked by Cincinnati (.339 team wOBA) on April fourth, Wolf surrendered six runs (only two or which were earned) and two home runs to the Cubs (.320 team wOBA). He then went on to face Pittsburgh (.295 team wOBA), Philadelphia (.315 team wOBA) and Houston (.316 team wOBA) twice in a row. The Astros and Cubs currently have the two lowest team walk rates in the NL.
While we can't discount the fact that Wolf has pitched well against these opponents, he still hasn't seen the best competition in the NL yet (outside of Cincinnati, who did plenty of damage).
The second major part to the equation is how Wolf's success in ERA and WHIP have come with very little change in his batted ball and plate discipline stats. The only stat that does jump out as a huge regression candidate is his infield fly-ball rate of 20.4 percent. While Wolf has generated a good rate of infield pop-ups over his career (12.5 percent), it is highly unlikely that he sustains such a high pop-up rate going forward. Infield pop-ups almost always result in an out, so a regression in that category would no be a good thing.
Speaking of regression, it seems very likely that Wolf's 3.3 K/BB rate will not hold either. First of all, Wolf has never held a K/BB rate over three in his career. Second, almost one-third of his strikeouts this season came in his start against the Pirates, who, along with the Padres, have the worst team strikeout rate in baseball. Cut those ten strikeouts in half and Wolf's K/9 drops from 7.88 to about 6.69.
I'll buy the improved command, but not the sustainability of his current strikeout rate.
One final issue with Wolf going forward is his tendency to get hurt by the long-ball too often. Based on his career average, it's safe to assume that he'll surrender about one home run per nine innings this season, which means we can expect about 20 more home runs allowed the rest of the way. Last season, only three pitchers (Cole Hamels, Ted Lilly and Shaun Marcum) held an ERA under 3.75 while allowing over one home run per nine innings.
Now would be a great time to sell high if you can. Wolf has clawed his way past some weak competition so far and won't see numbers better than what he has right now. That being said, he's still a quality major league pitcher and worth streaming in the right matchup.