Randy Wolf is now fully confirmed as a member of the Dodgers. He is the third free agent the Dodgers signed this offseason that will receive $7,500,000 in 2007. On top of this, the Dodgers have a team option for $9,000,000 that vests automatically if Wolf pitches 180 innings.
At the time of this signing, I was ecstatic. Ned Colletti, for the first time in his tenure with the Dodgers, is showing a willingness to take a risk. He's willing to take on a guy that might get injured in order to get far more upside than he paid for. The further I looked into Wolf's career to make this post, the less upside he appeared to have.
Wolf is a very hard pitcher to analyze, due to his injuries and the massive fluctuations in performance he's seen over his career. In his first season, 1999, he pitched in 120 below average innings. His strikeout rate was close to nine per nine, but he walk rate was almost five and is home run rate was close to 1.5. Still, the Phillies stuck with Wolf and they were rewarded. In 2000, Wolf saw his walks and home runs improve, but his strikeouts went down. This brought Wolf to his two good years, 2001 and 2002. Despite his higher ERA, 2001 was Wolf's best year. He put up an 8.39 K/9, the second best in his career, as well as his career high K/BB ratio, and 2001 was the only year where he had a below average home run rate. 2002 had Wolf produce an impressive 3.20 ERA, but this was due to a .258 BABIP, as all of his peripherals declined from 2001. After this, he had fairly poor 2003, which was lifted by a .271 BABIP, and he's been injured ever since.
To get a better idea of Wolf's production, here's his year by year DIPS ERA. DIPS ERA measures what a pitcher's ERA should have been given his peripherals:
2000 - 4.59
2001 - 3.65
2002 - 4.01
2003 - 4.44
2004 - 4.67
2005 - 5.11
2006 - 6.39
Right now, it seems like the Dodgers are looking at 2002 as Wolf's upside and see 2003 as his baseline. Is this realistic? I'm not sure. Can we expect a 30 year old pitcher to return to the same level he was at when he was 25 or 26? Is it even realistic to expect a return to his mediocre age 27 season in 2003? The worst part is that, this signing comes with the downside of Wolf's last three years. While moving from the launching pad that is Citizens Bank Park will help his home run rate, it was over two in 2006 (Veteran's Stadium was a pitchers park, so his home run rate prior to his injury can be taken at face value). Even adjusting for park factors puts his home run rate at an astoundingly high 1.73 per nine. Wolf needs to make big improvements over 2006 to be more useful than Brett Tomko or Mark Hendrickson, and there's no guarantee that those improvements will be made.
Even with all this, I still like the deal, since it keeps Brett Tomko out of the rotation, and that's worth any price. I'm starting to believe more and more that there's no such thing as a bad one year contract. But, the deal can get scary if the Dodgers sign another pitcher, making it eight million to replace Chad Billingsley or Hong-Chih Kuo, and I think Billingsley and Kuo are both already better than Wolf is. You can almost never have too many starters, but I don't think the Dodgers would but Wolf in the bullpen to start the season over Kuo or Billingsley if that is the case. I guess eight million dollars to take a chance on a guy is a fair price in this market, but if he's only going to put up mediocre numbers as his upside, with being a gas can/DL fodder as his downside, it's not nearly as nice of a deal as I thought it was.