Friday, July 23, 2004

Wolves at the Wall

Is it legal yet to begin worrying about Randy Wolf?  OK, then, let us begin. 

The primary reason to fret is that Randy is a finesse fly-ball pitcher in what has become in less than one full season the most homer-friendly yard in the majors.  Indeed, a debate is now raging in the Philadelphia Inquirer regarding some of the measurements posted on the outfield walls at Citizens Bank Park.  The Inquirer has challenged the official distances in some locations and the Phillies have refused to allow the the paper to measure those distances themselves.  Despite their resistance, management has already relocated one contested sign in the dispute, shifting the “369” marker in left enter field three panels toward center field thereby shortening the original distance where the sign previously resided.  Some players have grumbled there are college ballparks with more distant fences than Citizens Bank Park.  Whenever new ballparks are planned, team officials make fieldtrips to existing stadiums,  sit through endless planning meetings and assure the local citizenry they will get it right.  So, isn’t it fair to ask how hard is it to build a new major league ballpark with major league dimensions and then label them accurately?

Back to Randy   What does all of this mean to him?  Well, he was never going to blow away hitters.  Instead, he relies on a curve, slow curve, and changeup with the occasional acceptable fast ball mixed in to keep hitters honest.  The problem is that every batter has become a long-ball threat when Randy is on the mound; left-handed or right-handed, power-hitter or singles hitter.  All types have dialed “8” on Randy this year.  He has pitched with leads and from behind and his approach does not appear to change. 

Now in his sixth season Randy is quickly moving from a guy with unlimited potential to one about whom people ask , what has he done for us lately?   Randy was being counted on heavily following the 2003 season during which he went 16-10.  His ERA last season was a robust 4.23, however, and it should also be noted he gave up 27 home runs during the 2003 season at the Vet, a park not known as a hitters paradise, nor, for that matter, as a paradise of any sort.

This season expectations for Wolf were very high; consequently he has been a major disappointment.  Kevin Millwood was still alleged to be the staff ace, but Wolf has been spoken of as one of the best left-handers in the National League and, unlike Millwood, was expected to stay around past this season barring any more problems with manager Larry Bowa, a caveat of true major league dimensions.

Update to the above:  The Phillies relented and took measurements.  All are accurate now that the aforementioned "369" marker has been relocated.  If Randy can relocate his curve with the same degree of success things should look better for him, too.

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