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John Wasdin: "Wayback" No More?

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Coming into 2005, John Wasdin has had a career best described in polite company as "undistinguished." From 1995-2004, Wasdin pitched for seven different clubs including the Yomiuri Giants in 2002. Only in 1997 did he spend a full season in the Majors; since 1998, he has 392 Major-League innings and 352 minor-league innings. In the bigs, he has a 5.38 ERA, and his ERA+ of 90 ranks among contemporaries Shawn Estes, Jason Johnson, Scott Shoeweneweis, and Jaret Wright.

His jacktastic tendencies have inhibited a more stable and lucrative career. Wasdin allowed 119 homers in 668 innings prior to 2005, a dire rate of one per 5.6 innings. Even in 1997, his most successful season, he allowed one per seven innings but survived by surrendering them with fewer runners on base. The homers have obliterated his strong points: only 2.8 walks allowed per nine innings, a solid strikeout rate of 6.2 per nine, and an average-against on balls in play of .293.

In 2005, Wasdin spent two months in AAA Oklahoma offering more of the same: a 4.93 ERA and eleven homers in 73 innings. Nevertheless, Texas bought his contract in mid-June when Ron Mahay, Nick Regilio and Joaquin Benoit hit the Disabled List within a five-day span.

What followed was revelatory. Wasdin saw action on his first day with the team and pitched four shutout innings against Florida. Three more scoreless outings followed, and on June 28, he held the division-leading Angels to one run over eight innings. Wasdin currently sports on ERA of 1.40 and has allowed only twenty baserunners in 25.2 innings. Even with so few innings pitched, he ranks third among Ranger hurlers in VORP.

Say it with me: Hooray for John Wasdin! Unfortunately, the question is not whether Wasdin will fall, but how hard. The statistics tell the story of an incredibly lucky pitcher.

Wasdin has allowed two homers in 25.2 innings, a rate less than half his career average. Before doing any research, I'd assumed that Wasdin had adopted Orel Hershiser's grounder-heavy philosophy. Could Wasdin achieve long-term success with this approach, or would his career arc, like Ryan Drese, mimic Charly Gordon? Surprisingly and disconcertingly, Wasdin is allowing fly balls at a higher rate than his career average (0.63 vs. 0.82). For whatever reason, those flies are staying on the proper side of the fence. Maybe skill plays a role, but I'm skeptical.

Wasdin also has struck out only eleven batters, meaning he is allowing more balls into play than usual. You don't have to be a true believer in DIPS to trust that pitchers have less control over batting average on balls hit into play than other peripherals. Certainly, drastic changes in hit rate should not last long. Wasdin's average on balls hit into play during 2005 is .181, over 100 points below his career average.

In sum, John Wasdin has cut his home run rate by more than 50%, but he also is allowing more fly balls than ever, his strikeout rate is down, and his hit rate is unsustainable. Perhaps Wasdin has internalized some philosophical or mechanical change that will allow him to thrive in the Majors. I hope so, for the raggedy bullpen and soon-to-be-shorthanded rotation need his help. Unfortunately, the statistics suggest trouble ahead.