Thursday, May 3, 2012


Wandy Rodriguez, missin' his Gatorade...
So, on the morning after Jered Weaver throws a no-hitter, here we are touting the exploits of a non-descript little lefthanded pitcher with a sub-.500 lifetime record and a wacky name. Are you surprised?

Probably not. As already noted, Wandy Fulton Rodriguez (Fulton?) is a little left-hander. One of our weak spots--and understandable, too, given that any taxonomist worth his classification scheme would plop us right into that category. (We're still rooting for Fabio Castro, a really little lefty--all of 5'7"--who's now making the ground tour of Triple-A after a spilt cup of coffee with the Phillies and just might get another shot in Oakland this season. There are tons of these guys, and we'll get around to them one of these days.)

Wandy has pushed past 200 lifetime starts without most of the world really appreciating how good he's become--though, as we'll see, the Astros probably let a short-term hot streak affect their contract talks with him a couple of years ago. Most of the talk about Wandy in the numbers-embedded "mom's basement" bunkers right now is centered on just when the Astros should get rid of him: the ideological lockjaw that's been set in stone automatically assumes that a new regime in Houston with some ties to numberology will want to clean house, and that a 32-year old lefty who's under 6' tall but probably overpaid should be cashed in for prospects just as soon as the appropriate "sleight-of-hand moment" presents itself.

But sometimes the best thing an auteur can do is to forget that he is one, and that just might be the best plan for Jeff Luhnow and company. Especially when the last 50 starts that Wandy has made indicate that he really has reached a new level...

The progression in the chart (where we reference ERA and the basic version of our own QMAX numbers) is unmistakable. And thanks to the hit prevention range data (the ones marked "S12%" and "HH%", which show the percentage of games in which Wandy is shutting down the opposition and the ones where the opposition is getting to him), we can see that over his first 150 starts, he was making slow progress from what began as a marginal career, ERA drifting downward in part due to the slow change in offensive levels, and a mild improvement in the percentage of "top hit prevention games ("S12%").

In those last fifty starts, however, he has picked up the pace, improving in all directions at once. A pitcher who can get his QMAX "T" score under six is right on the fringes of being an ace: while Wandy is not quite there--and we really don't expect him to do that--he has evolved into a truly fine pitcher, one who's more consistently able to do what he wants to when he's on the mound.

We were talking about how the previous Astros ownership may have gotten overly enthusiastic about Wandy and his improvement when they handed him a big contract at the beginning of last year. Why did that happen?

Probably because they were looking at a shorter performance subset. We've broken out Wandy's QMAX profile (the basic overall "T" score) and his ERA for running 15-game averages over his whole career in the chart. As you can see, there is a spectacular dip (remember, lower numbers are better and lower on the chart is also better....) at a point on the graph that just happens to coincide with the end of the 2010 season.

What's happened since then is that Wandy has had the most stable set of readings in both areas since coming off his performance peak. No, of course, he's not as good as he was for that fifteen-game stretch (and a similar one back in 2008-09), but the roller coaster ride has stopped.

But the 2010-11 offseason was the point at which Wandy got his contract, and that's one of the reasons why the Astros made an effort to unload him last year (in a waiver deal with the Rockies that fell apart). As far as we're concerned, they're much better off for not having done that. Consider the following...

Next year, in the AL West, three of the road parks in which Wandy would be pitching (assuming that Luhnow keeps his trigger finger away from that little red button...) will be much more favorable to him than three of the parks where he faces NL Central opponents (Wrigley: 5.08 ERA; Miller: 5.88 ERA; PNC: 4.96 ERA). While there was some concern about Wandy pitching in the AL, the fact is that he's had more trouble with the long ball in Wrigley Field and Miller Park than anywhere else; pitching in Anaheim, Oakland and Seattle should be a much better deal for him. Overall, it looks like a solid net gain.

So whenever we send up our flares for Wandy, we send them along with a message that dares to disagree with the "emperor's new wisdom" that he should be send packing by the Astros. Let's extend that heterodox gospel by way of a musical metaphor from the old-school soul of William Bell, remindin' us that it's not so good an idea to give something away ("You Don't Miss Your Water...") without being sure that we really know what we've be listening, now, Mister Jeff??