Tom Wilhelmsen, Maybe a Starter

Dave · August 6, 2013 at 10:51 am · Filed Under Mariners 

Tom Wilhelmsen was optioned to Tacoma after last night’s game. Today, Tom Wilhelmsen is starting for the Tacoma Rainiers. These two things are related.

Wilhelmsen has obviously struggled this year, primarily with his command, but there are enough bullpen innings to go around that he could work on things in Seattle if they wanted him to. They’ve already done that earlier in the season, in fact. However, by optioning him to Tacoma, they’ve opened up a new path, and that potential opportunity begins today.

Per Greg Johns on Twitter:

They’re not committing to Wilhelmsen as a starting pitcher. He’s only going to throw two innings today, and then they’ll re-evaluate from there. If he does well, he’ll probably get another start, and maybe go three innings in that one. If he bombs out, maybe this ends up being nothing.

But there are reasons to think that maybe this might work. Tom Wilhelmsen’s secondary stuff consists of a curveball and a change-up, both pitches that historically do pretty well against opposite handed hitters. He’s shown a bit of a platoon split in relief, but nothing too extreme. He’s not Carter Capps. His stuff works against left-handed batters, at least when he’s throwing strikes.

As a starter, working multiple innings, Wilhelmsen will almost certainly lose velocity. He won’t be able to throw in the high-90s for extended periods, so his fastball will probably settle in more around 93-96. There is some evidence that it is easier to throw 93 in the zone than 98 in the zone. It is possible that a reduction in velocity could actually help Wilhelmsen throw more strikes, which is his primary problem at the moment. While the strikeouts will go down, the walks very well may go down too, and it’s entirely possible that Wilhelmsen will be more effective as a mid-90s starter than a high-90s reliever.

It’s an experiment worth trying, I think. The raw stuff is there for Wilhelmsen to be a solid starting pitcher. His health was a concern after they signed him following his long layoff, but he hasn’t really battled any issues the last few years, and stretching him out now will give them a chance to see if he can maintain his velocity while throwing more pitches. If he can, and if the reduction in velocity helps him throw more strikes, then he could potentially be a rotation option for 2014.

Of course, he could bomb out as a starter too, and this might not end up going anywhere. If it doesn’t work, the Mariners can try him in relief again. No harm, no foul. It’s worth a try, though, and I’m glad to see the organization looking to see if perhaps this move might help him get back on track.


17 Responses to “Tom Wilhelmsen, Maybe a Starter”

  1. kfrei2 on August 6th, 2013 10:57 am

    I like it. There’s no harm in giving it a try.

  2. Jay R. on August 6th, 2013 11:01 am

    Also a fan. I like the less rigid thinking. If he can turn into something useful for next season, that is one less hole to fill. I don’t think they are THAT far off from being watchable in 2014.

  3. Westside guy on August 6th, 2013 11:09 am

    When his curve is on, it’s a thing of beauty. It seems like he at least has the arsenal to start.

    I’ve heard guys speculate about this possibility in the past; and starters are certainly more valuable than relievers. It does seem like it’s worth the look.

  4. Hutch on August 6th, 2013 11:13 am

    I’d still really like to see them try this with Furbush.

  5. globalalpha on August 6th, 2013 11:14 am

    Wait a minute, are Dave and Geoff actually agreeing on something?

  6. heyoka on August 6th, 2013 11:26 am

    Furbush: 2011.

  7. msfanmike on August 6th, 2013 11:32 am

    Good idea. Worth a try. A closer can be effective throwing 93 mph, too. Assuming it is not 93 right down the pipe after walking two guys. Or hanging your head like eeyore anytime you give up a hit.

    Maybe he just isn’t ‘geared’ with a closers mind-set (whatever that means) and its time to consider other alternatives. He used to be a starter, so what the heck? Fact is, location and stuff is going to rule the roost regardless of what role he is put into. And he needs to trust his stuff, because he has great stuff.

  8. BillyJive on August 6th, 2013 11:45 am

    I have it on good authority that that Dave and Geoff are actually the same person. Geoff is simply Dave’s Canadian alter-ego.

  9. Paul B on August 6th, 2013 11:46 am

    I am trying to remember a pitcher who washed out of the bullpen and became a good starter.

  10. ivan on August 6th, 2013 12:01 pm

    I applaud this move, and I share the curiosity about whether Furbush might benefit from another go at starting. And why not Perez, again?

    Some players need to be in a tightly structured role. Others have been known to benefit from versatility in approach.

  11. Jake on August 6th, 2013 12:06 pm

    Wilhelmsen today: 2 IP, 3 H, 3 ER, 0 BB, 4 K, 2 HR, 31 pitches.

  12. Westside guy on August 6th, 2013 12:14 pm

    Step one for a successful transition from the bullpen to a starting role…

    Don’t suck.

    Of course two home runs out of three hits could very easily just be fluky bad luck – and zero BBs with four Ks is great. But I can’t imagine Tom’s confidence is particularly high right now.

  13. joser on August 6th, 2013 12:15 pm

    I am trying to remember a pitcher who washed out of the bullpen and became a good starter.

    We just saw one: RA Dickey.
    Also: C.J. Wilson. Kenny Rogers. David Wells. Chris Sale.

    They didn’t always “wash out” but the transition has been successfully made (not as frequently as it has failed, of course.)

    Then there’s the guys who went both ways. Ryan Dempster began as a starter, became a closer after TJ surgery, then eventually became a starter again. John Smolts, of course, famously did that also. Derek Lowe was a starter when he was in the M’s org but the Red Sox made him a closer before turning him back into a starter. And we all remember the Brandon Morrow Experiment.

  14. scraps on August 6th, 2013 12:20 pm

    So the people who were wondering (loudly) why the Mariners didn’t just cut Wilhelmsen on his meltdown this week: good management teams* try lots of things before letting a good player go.

    *yes, I just called the Mariners a “good management team”. It probably won’t last.

  15. ChrisFB on August 6th, 2013 12:33 pm

    Or, no one seriously thinks Tom is going to be converted into a starter, and having him be a starter at the tail end of the AAA season is the simplest way to give him more low-leverage innings against semi-decent hitters. He can work on his command over the course of multiple innings instead of being expected to immediately throw strikes with runners on in the 8th or in a 1-run game in the 9th.

  16. henryv on August 6th, 2013 3:24 pm

    Tom has 3 pitches, none of them are plus right now. That’s basically a classic back-of-the-rotation starter.

    Additionally, this team is down to two legit AAA SP prospects healthy, and probability says that the most likely scenario is that neither of them will work out for more than a near-replacement-level player.

    If a pitcher can be an average starter it is worth more than an above average reliever.

    Wade Davis is mediocre starting pitcher, for instance. He is worth about 1.3 WAR, as the median starting pitcher with 70 IP.

    Grant Balfour is a good reliever, and has a WAR of 1/2 of Wade Davis.

  17. miscreant on August 6th, 2013 6:30 pm

    Derek Lowe and Adam Wainwright are two more guys that started as relievers and made a successful transition to starter.

    Here is an article on the topic

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