Cory Wade was one of the first new pieces in a complicated and crowded bullpen puzzle which remains unsolved as we head towards the 2011 season. The former reliever in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization was signed by Tampa Bay Rays way back on November 17, 2010. Since then, the team has added younger and more exciting arms like Adam Russell and Brandon Gomes along with more experienced arms like Joel Peralta and Kyle Farnsworth.
With several spots already reserved for those on major-league contracts or out of minor-league options, Wade will be one of many candidates fighting for one or two spots in the bullpen, depending on what moves the Rays may make between now and opening day. While each candidate has their own pros and cons, Wade may have the single best weapon among the contenders.
The majority of Wade’s time in the big leagues came during the 2008 season. Of his 82 career appearances, 55 came that year. In terms of innings pitched, 71.1 of his 99 innings were thrown that season.
As a rookie in the Dodgers pen, the results were favorable. He had a ridiculous, yet not-so-believable, 2.27 ERA. That said, defensive independent metrics still pegged him as an above-average reliever. According to Baseball Prospectus, he had the highest rate of double plays induced in double-play situations of any National League reliever.
Most of Wade’s success came in the form of limiting baserunners. He had a .199 batting average against and .222 batting average on balls in play (BABIP). Both are unlikely to be sustained over a larger sample size. Meanwhile, his low walk rate was a carryover from his days in the minor leagues.
Though his strikeout rate was merely pedestrian, he did rack up a quite few swinging strikes; especially on his secondary offerings. Wade went to his change-up just about 14% of the time that year and induced a whiff 17.2% of the time. However, his most potent weapon came in the form of a curveball.
The velocity separation between Wade’s fastball and curveball does not reach double-digits. That fact did not stop the breaking ball from being insanely effective. While throwing the pitch nearly one-third of the time, Wade had a swinging strike rate of just under 14%. When opposing batters weren’t flailing at the pitch, they were hitting groundballs outs in bunches. In fact, almost 90% of the groundballs put in play off Wade’s curveball were converted into outs.
For 2008 season, his curveball rated as the fourth-most effective one of its kind in all of baseball (min. 50 innings), and first among relief pitchers according to pitch values on fangraphs.com. In total, his wCB of 15.1 was the second-highest value on a reliever’s curveball since 2002 – the genesis of pitch value data.
In a crowd full of hopefuls looking to fit in with the Rays relief corps, perhaps Wade and his mighty curveball will be enough to stand out among the rest.