Randy Wolf, who announced his retirement last Thursday, was a perfectly serviceable pitcher for his 16-year Major League Baseball career. The 39-year-old veteran pitched for eight MLB teams and had a disappointing stint with the Detroit Tigers at the end of the 2015 season; with little interest from teams in free agency Wolf decided to hang up the cleats. He finished his career with solid but unspectacular numbers: a 4.38 FIP in 2328.1 innings pitched, a 101 ERA- and 103 FIP-. He struck out 7.0 batters-per-nine-innings, and walked 3.2 per-nine. He threw over 200 innings in a season six times and made exactly one All-Star team, in 2003 as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies.
Despite his bouncing around at the end of his career, he will always be defined by the eight seasons he spent with the Philadelphia Phillies from 1999 to 2006. He was the perfect player for those early 2000's Phillies teams - good but never great, and the kind of pitcher that had a blue-collar demeanor on the mound that endeared him to the Philadelphia fans....something that is not an easy task. When he took the mound at Veterans Stadium and later Citizen's Bank Park, fans would dress up in wolf masks and call themselves the Wolf Pack. The Wolf Pack took on other names for other Phillies pitchers like Terry Adams (Adams Family) and Vicente Padilla (Padilla's Flotilla).
It was also in those inaugural eight years of his career that Wolf enjoyed the best performance of his career. He demonstrated success despite pitching in hitter-friendly environments and at times, even seemed to be on track for stardom. Wolf didn't have an overpowering fastball - the offering sat between 87 and 91 MPH even in his younger days - but his tantalizingly slow curveball was a big weapon and strikeout pitch for him. Even though it wasn't his game, Wolf could rack up some high strikeout totals in those first few years when that pitch was moving effectively.
Wolf made his Major League debut on June 11, 1999 in an inter-league game against the Toronto Blue Jays. In front of 26,541 fans at Veterans Stadium, the 22-year-old Wolf started his career off well - 5.2 innings, 6 hits, 6 strikeouts, 3 walks and he allowed just 1 run, earning the first of 133 career wins. He made 21 starts during his rookie season, tossing 121.2 innings striking out 8.6 batters-per-nine-innings, but walking nearly 5 per-nine. His ERA and FIP were both over 5.00 on the season, but this being the late-1990s, Wolf finished with a 112 FIP-.
The highlight of the season was an 8-inning, 10-strikeout performance against the Chicago Cubs on June 2nd, racking up a season-high 76 game score against Sammy Sosa and Company.
The 2000 season was his first full-year in the majors, and he showed signs of improvement. His strikeouts ticked down, but so did his walks, and he reached the 200-inning plateau for the first time in his career. Wolf's ERA- (94) and FIP- (96) were both better than league average and he finished second among Phillies pitchers in fWAR (2.9), only trailing Robert Person (3.4).
Things clicked for Wolf in 2001 when his thanks to an improved strikeout rate and falling walk rate, he posted a career-best 2.98 K/BB ratio. He put up an 87 ERA- and 81 FIP- and posted a 3.4 fWAR total despite missing nearly all of August with a sprained ankle. He missed some time right at the beginning of the 2002 season owing to elbow tendinitis, but came back healthy and his career-best 3.20 ERA was good for an also-career-best 79 ERA-.
Wolf's lone All-Star nod came in 2003, a season in which he set his career-high in wins (16), but most of his peripherals regressed. He was able to bounce back quickly in 2004 and got out of the gate to a blistering start - in 10 starts he had a 2.91 ERA and struck out 41 batters in 65.0 innings, walking just 14. He missed some time in May with Elbow Inflammation, and one start after returning, Wolf hit the DL with Elbow Tendonitis. After returning from the DL, Wolf made 13 starts, posting a 5.53 ERA and striking out 48 and walking 22 in 71.2 innings but was shut down for the remainder of the season after an August 28th start against Milwaukee where he only finished 3 innings, allowing three runs on five hits, including a Lyle Overbay home run.
Wolf struggled in 2005, getting hit hard to the tune of a .282/.348/.489 line-against before shutting it down in mid-June for Tommy John surgery. He recovered and made 12 unspectacular starts for the Phillies down the stretch in 2006, and with his contract expired, he signed on with the Los Angeles Dodgers, the team that originally drafted him out of high school in 1994.
He pitched well in 18 starts for the Dodgers before again having his season cut short ---- this time by shoulder surgery.
Wolf was able to stay healthy in 2008, which he split between the San Diego Padres and the Houston Astros. Hecame in right around league average in terms of his park-adjusted ERA (107) and FIP (98), but the injuries had sapped some of his strikeout ability, and he never regained that for the remainder of his career.
He returned for a second stint with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2009, and thanks to cutting down on walks (2.44 BB/9) and a .251 opponent BABIP, posted a 3.23 ERA and broke the 200 inning plateau for the first time since 2003. Wolf set a career-best with a 1.10 WHIP and led the National League with 34 games started.
The successful comeback inspired the Milwaukee Brewers to give Wolf a 3-year contract after the season. Wolf's time in Milwaukee brewed mixed results. He made 91 starts and 1 relief appearance for the Brewers, yielding a 4.61 FIP, 1.41 WHIP and 3.7 fWAR. Really, this was a decent year in 2011 sandwiched around two slightly-above-replacement-level years in 2010 and 2012.
The Brewers released Wolf on August 22, 2012, and nine days later, the Baltimore Orioles plucked him, hoping to use him for a playoff push (with the understanding that he was ineligible to be on a postseason roster). Wolf allowed 9 runs in 15.1 innings with the Orioles before landing on the DL again at the end of September with an Ulnar Collateral Ligament sprain.
On October 30, Wolf underwent Tommy John surgery for the second time.
2013 was a recovery year for Wolf, who decided to try to comeback in 2014, signing with the Seattle Mariners. The Mariners released Wolf at the end of spring training, and he inked a contract with the Arizona Diamondbacks, eventually opting out on May 14, and agreeing with the Miami Marlins and earning his only career save later that day.
He only pitched in 6 games for the Marlins, with the highlight being a June 2nd start against the Tampa Bay Rays that was vintage Wolf - 6.0 innings, 3 hits, 1 run, 1 walk, 7 strikeouts. The magic didn't last, as the Marlins released him in mid-June after pitching to the tune of a 5.26 ERA and being precisely replacement-level. Wolf's magical mystery tour of 2014 continued with a three-and-a-half week stint in the Orioles organization, and a stint in the Los Angeles Angels minor leagues.
He clung to hope in 2015, pitching with the Toronto Blue Jays Triple-A team, the Buffalo Bisons until August when the Detroit Tigers purchased his contract from Toronto. Wolf's swan song in the majors lasted 8 games and 7 starts, and he struggled to a 6.23 ERA. The final appearance of his career was a relief outing on October 4, a scoreless inning against the Chicago White Sox - he walked 1, allowed 1 hit, and struck out 1 batter, Carlos Sanchez.
Randy Wolf made 390 appearances in his career, and accumulated 27.6 fWAR. His is a case where injuries right in his prime (2004-2007 were his age 27-30 seasons) really robbed him of what could've been a few more All-Star appearances and perhaps some extra staying power at the end of his career. He still had a fine MLB tenure and should be able to look back at the last 16 seasons with pride and so ends the career of a journey-man veteran whose good-but-not-great career will be remembered by many.
Joe Vasile is a contributor at Beyond the Box Score and the Broadcasting and Media Relations Assistant for the Salem Red Sox, the Advanced-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. For tweets on baseball, broadcasting, low-carb dieting, libertarian politics, weight lifting, or Carolina League baseball, follow Joe on Twitter at @JoeVasilePBP.