The 2014 season began with plenty of question marks paired with undeniable upside. Everybody knew that this team could perform well if things went right, but 20 games in, little has. The bullpen as a whole has been fairly middle of the road, but it has lacked the dominating back-end an idealistic mind might have imagined. The prime culprit of that crushed dream is Tom Wilhelmsen.
He's been terrible.
Wilhelmsen is closer to the broken-down, shattered confidence version of himself from last year than he is the dominant closer he was a year ago, even though there were some red flags popping up then. He might even be closer to the shell-shocked version that got hammered in Tacoma while he was trying to figure things out. The 12-6 curve has poked it's head out a few times this year, but he hasn't been able to command it with any consistency, and batters have had the luxury of waiting for Wilhelmsen to throw strikes. That's something he hasn't been able to do, though it might not be entirely his fault.
Called strikes, all pitches/all counts:
Yikes. Ignoring the fact that Wilhelmsen has been all over the place, he's not getting any close calls - only one strike called out of the zone compared to eight missed inside it. Wilhelmsen has surely been forced to throw some less than ideal pitches after getting jobbed on clear strikes, trying to catch up. Framing aside (three appearances with John Buck, for what it's worth), when he enters games without command, he isn't doing himself any favors. Umpires can be manipulated by strike throwers, especially ones who pound the corners early in the count and gradually expand the zone.
Wilhelmsen hasn't been able to do that, generally sending his 0-0 pitches down the middle or way out of the zone.
Called strikes, 0-0 count:
There's nothing on the edges. And it hasn't been his curve either, as he's only thrown the first pitch curve three times this season, once for a strike and twice for balls in the dirt.
He's already cut way back on his curve usage, dropping from 28% in 2012 to 21% in 2012, all the way down to 16% this year. It's developed into a nearly exclusive out pitch against lefties, and the usage is similar against righties. But his inability to put himself into pitcher's counts has reduced not only the usage, but the efficiency.
Wilhelmsen has started eleven 0-0 counts with his four-seam fastball, but once again, nothing on the corners and only one on the edge, low. He's throwing strikes with his heater, but he's throwing meatballs. It's the only pitch he's consistently gotten over to start counts, but the command is poor.
Pitch locations, 0-0 count, four-seam fastball:
All of this helps explain just how poor Wilhelmsen has been, and it's almost inconceivable how bad the peripherals look. He's walking 7.7 batters per nine innings. His strikeout rate sits at 4.8 K/9. His SIERA, based on batted ball profiles, is 6.08. His FIP 5.92, and his xFIP 5.67. His BABIP is .233. His line drive rate is 35.5%. Tom Wilhelmsen can't throw strikes, and when he does, his pitches are getting hit very, very hard. This is going to get worse if things don't change, and other than his bad luck from umpires, there isn't much that indicates that his luck is about to turn if he can't regain some command.
This might be worse than the version of Wilhelmsen who was condemned to AAA last year. Yet he has spent considerable time masquerading as the team's premier setup man thanks to Lloyd McClendon, despite doing nothing to earn it.
Wilhelmsen's gmLI is 1.50, second to only Charlie Furbush. If you're unfamiliar with the metric, it measures the average leverage index when a player enters the game -- how important the scenario is. Wilhelmsen's 1.5 rating is considered high, but what's truly telling is the usage of Danny Farquhar, who inexplicably sits at 0.88, below Yoervis Medina, Joe Beimel, Dominic Leone, and Hector Noesi, of all people. This needs to change.
There's little hope for Wilhelmsen at this point. Even if he starts getting more calls in the zone, he's still not painting the edges like he needs to, and he's constantly getting behind in counts or getting shelled when he attempts to get ahead in them. If the Mariners feel it's too soon to send him to AAA (and they shouldn't), then they at least need to relegate him to mop-up duty or whatever nebulous role they've used Farquhar in so far. One way or another, this can't continue for much longer.