- Rating: 2.93
- 2022 stats: 29 G, 29.0 IP, 5.28 ERA, 5.01 FIP, 1.345 WHIP, 1.50 SO/BB, 77 ERA+
- Date of birth: March 24, 1993 (29 years old)
- 2022 earnings: $835,000 (via Spotrac)
- 2023 status: Free Agent (released on October 13, 2022 after being designated for assignment on July 5).
Let me use some parts from last year’s review on J.B. Wendelken from Michael McDermott, so we don’t have to repeat ourselves:
Jeffrey Benjamin “J.B.” Wendelken was originally a 13th round selection by the Boston Red Sox out of Middle Georgia State, but got traded twice before making his debut with the Oakland Athletics in 2016. After missing 2017 with Tommy John surgery, Wendelken resurfaced with Oakland as a middle inning reliever and posted decent surface numbers across the board in 2018-20, en route to roughly 1.7 bWAR over that stretch.
The Diamondbacks claimed Wendelken off outright waivers on August 11th, where the Oakland A’s had put him after seeing his strikeout rate drop from 29% to 22% while seeing his walk rate increase to 11% and hard hit rate to 35%.
His overall peripherals improved a little bit in Arizona, as his hard hit rate in Arizona was less than in Oakland despite seeing another drop in strikeouts. Wendelken was OK in his new role but nothing special.
Wendelken avoided arbitration with the Diamondbacks in the 2022 off-season and agreed on a $850,000 contract, showing that Hazen had some real belief in his potential. Oh, Hazen and guaranteed contracts...
As Michael McDermott envisioned, the Georgia man made the opening day roster as one of the components in the bullpen. But he wasn’t really used in any high-leverage situations. Rather, he didn’t get his first hold until his 14th appearance on May 22. By then, he was already pitching with a 6.08 ERA.
Except for the first 4 games his ERA was never below 4.00 and after giving up 3 runs in 0.2 innings in a loss against Colorado on July 2, the D-Backs decided that enough was enough.
What had happened?
Unlike in 2021, left-handed batters didn’t have that much success against Wendelken. He had troubles with striking them out and his 0.83 SO/BB rate against them was troublesome, but in general they were kept in check with a .506 OPS.
Right-handed batters, however, threw their Friday night parties at home plate any time Wendelken showed up. His SO/BB rate was better, although still rather pedestrian with 2.00. The .810 OPS was a bigger problem though, and a huge shift from last year’s .644.
A look at Wendelken’s statcast reveals that his fastball, slider and changeup did their job. He even gained some velocity on his fastball.
The problem was his stinker, I mean, sinker. Wendelken’s sinker is a hard sinker and has almost the same speed and spin rate as the fastball. My first thought on a sinker with lots of spin would be that it nullifies certain movement, but I looked a little bit more into it and it definitely isn’t necessarily like that.
“How spin is applied to a sinker is more important than the spin rate itself.” - Vivaelbirdos.com in a 2022 article on sinkers
However it may exactly be, I guess the sinker lacked movement and hitters therefore easily squared up on it, achieving exactly the opposite of what the sinker is meant to do: Wendelken’s sinker provoked hard hit fly balls instead of grounders.
Another explanation for reduced success on his sinker could be that he threw it consistently to right-handed batters, something he had never done before, and with disastrous results.
If this was a predetermined plan by Brent Strom or some certain mode of auto-destruct, we will not know, but it didn’t work out for the Diamondbacks and even less for Wendelken since he was designated for assignment after his last outing and outrighted to Reno. While there he actually pitched to a very good 2.63 ERA giving up 0 homeruns over 24.0 innings, which is like sweet honey on the brown bear’s nose.
J.B. Wendelken elected free agency in October 2022, so he won’t be coming back to the desert. Wendelken should be able to find a minor league contract with an invite to spring training somewhere. He was pretty successful in 2018 and 2019 and did fine in Reno, so the potential is certainly there although it looks like no one knows the right recipe at the moment to achieve a stew with the right kick.