Tyler Wells: Making the leap from Rule 5 pick to MLB leader in WHIP

From Rule 5 selection to the big league leader in WHIP. Following Tommy John surgery and with having never pitched at Triple-A, O's right-hander Tyler Wells has skipped a few steps along the way.

But for now, he’s about the best the Orioles can offer in an improving rotation.

A pitcher that was labeled by some as best suited for the bullpen, is now 6-2 with a 3.20 ERA that ranks 10th best in the American League and 20th in MLB. Over 81 2/3 innings he has allowed just 54 hits with 16 walks, 82 strikeouts and a WHIP of 0.857.

And a good season has been getting even better. He pitched the Orioles to a series-clinching win over Toronto last Thursday. Over his past four starts he is 3-1 with a 2.55 ERA and .607 OPS against. He’s allowed two earned runs or less in nine of his 14 games.

His opponent batting average is .183 and there is one pitcher in the majors that can top that among qualifiers right now – Shohei Ohtani. Ohtani is also the only guy that allows fewer hits per nine innings than Wells at 5.95.

So how did a pitcher who had Tommy John surgery in 2018 do this?

When the Orioles selected him from Minnesota in the December of 2020 Rule 5 draft, he had thrown just 32 2/3 Double-A innings and none at Triple-A.

O's manager Brandon Hyde has said often Wells is “unpredictable,” meaning he has several quality pitches and hitters just can’t sit on one of them. They often are unsure what is coming and that pitch that is coming is of real quality in 2023.

“I think the element of surprise is something very useful,” Wells says of being unpredictable. “This year has been a lot of that. Talking to Adley (Rutschman), talking to (James) McCann and getting our game plan in order with that element of surprise – being able to throw any pitch in any count – is extremely helpful. That is a big reason for my success.”

Wells throws a four-seam fastball and also uses a changeup, cutter, slider and curve. He gives up a .218 batting average on the cutter and that is his worst pitch via average against. The other four all yield sub .200 batting averages.

Those numbers and such quality pitches allows Wells to use all five pitches and not have a predetermined pitch mix for a game, but rather be ready to adapt on the fly.

“I think it unfolds during the game,” he said. “There is so much that can change so fast. You know, I can use the Toronto game as an example with Danny Jansen (who hit two homers off him). Maybe I didn’t execute the pitch the best, but we executed a plan that we were thinking of, and it didn’t work. So, you have to plan accordingly. You are going to see a lot of those situations where you have to adjust on the fly. Sometimes a plan that is successful the first AB, may not be the second one. It’s a constant adjustment.

“For me it’s very important (to have all those pitches). I take a lot of pride in being able to throw any pitch in any count. And I hold myself to a high standard in that respect.”

While Wells has allowed 16 homers, among the most in baseball, he also is among the stingiest in walks per nine, sixth in the majors at 1.8.

Wells is good against both left and right-handed hitters. Lefties have an OPS of .591 against him, and he is 42 percent above league average via that stat. Right-handers are at .630, so he is 29 percent above the league in that stat. Just tough on all hitters.

“I have learned how to pitch at this level with my stuff. I was a different pitcher last year than I was in the minor leagues. And I have evolved further this year. Understanding how my stuff plays and how to better set guys up. I have learned how to pitch at the big league level as a starter. A lot that came along last year,” Wells said.

When Wells starts in the second game of the series with Tampa Bay that begins tonight, he'll get another chance to again show how he leads the majors in WHIP. But what he won't do, is take any time right now to enjoy his 2023 success.

“I don’t look at it except in the aspect of, I’m enjoying where I’m at. I am just constantly thinking I have a job to do every five days. As my dad would say I don’t sit back and smell the flowers where I’m at, because we are not in a World Series yet and that is where I want to be. If we get to that point, I can sit back and smell the roses, but right now I have my nose to the grindstone and am staying focused on what I need to do," he said. 



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