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Randy Wolf is not a household name in fantasy baseball circles; he is all but forgotten about. In ESPN leagues, for example, he is the 73rd pitcher drafted on average, 228th overall. A quick scan of his career numbers reveals he is a boringly average player. He had that nice 2009 with the Los Angeles Dodgers, but has usually been found with an ERA in the mid-4.00's. He has not won more than 13 games since 2003.

That makes his start to the 2011 season all the more surprising. He held the Houston Astros to one run in eight innings of work on Sunday. With a home run in the eighth, J.R. Towles ended Wolf's scoreless innings streak of 19 and two-thirds innings, which spanned three games. Wolf's popularity, as expected, has been skyrocketing. He is owned in 54 percent of ESPN leagues, over 37 percent of which has come in the last seven days. Yahoo! players are a bit slower, as Wolf is only owned in 34 percent of leagues there.

Obviously, the big question — the reason why you come here — is, "Is it sustainable?" While I certainly do not buy into him being 2.64 ERA-good, I do buy into him improving on his usual level of production. His current 3.41 SIERA is not bad at all; it would have ranked 16th among starters with 100 or more innings pitched last year.

Digging into his peripherals, we see that he is striking hitters out at a rate (8.5 per nine innings) he has not reached since he was a rookie with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1999. The walks are down as well, averaging fewer than 2.5 walks per nine. While that rate is certainly lower than his career average, he has reached that level before on several occasions, including in 2009. As Matt Swartz and Eric Seidman, among others, have shown with their rigorous studies, strikeouts and walks are great predictors of pitchers' future success and failure (given appropriate sample sizes, of course).

The BABIP on batted ball types yields some surprising results as well. Wolf has actually been unlucky on ground balls and line drives, but very fortunate on fly balls compared to the 2010 National League average.

 

2010 NL

Wolf 2011

Ground

0.235

0.265

Fly

0.137

0.086

Line

0.719

0.833

Wolf has induced eight infield flies out of 40 total fly balls, a rate of 20 percent — very high. Wolf's career average infield fly rate is 12.5 percent. The higher-than-usual infield fly rate helps explain the low BABIP. Additionally, he is allowing line drives and ground balls at rates below his career norms. Expect his overall .274 BABIP to rise when his infield fly rate normalizes, but his ground ball and line drive BABIP regression should help counter-balance that — his overall career average BABIP is .284.

There has been very little change in Wolf's pitch repertoire. Thus far, he has used his fastball rougly five percent less than he did last year, forcing a four percent increase in slider use. Interesting, but not significant.

30 innings is not nearly enough information for us to make grand conclusions such as "Randy Wolf is a changed man," but with what he has shown thus far, he is likely better than a lot of people realize right now. Being a conservative fantasy player, I take his 3.41 SIERA and place expectations of Wolf in the 3.75-4.00 ERA range, which is absolutely a steal in any format if he is still available in your league. I, for one, am buying what Wolf is selling.

For your convenience, here is a list of Wolf's next four starts, assuming there are no skipped starts:

  • Saturday, April 30 @ Houston (4.48 runs per game, 7th in NL)
  • Thursday, May 5 @ Atlanta (3.92, 14th)
  • Tuesday, May 10 vs. San Diego (2.92, 16th)
  • Monday, May 16 vs. Los Angeles (4.04, 12th)

Quite a few pitcher-friendly parks and a nice selection of bottom-feeding offenses. This is a good stretch for Wolf.