See this? That's what's called a StoryStream, and the linked one in particular is about Kip Wells. It's been updated recently, because there's recent news about Kip Wells. Kip Wells, who hasn't thrown a pitch in the majors since 2009. "Slow day," you might say, and you'd be correct -- there isn't a whole lot going on in baseball at the moment, relative to most of the moments. But Wells is joining a major-league rotation, and that's worth a post or several.
The main reason I'm writing this post is because of a tweet I saw earlier in the day:
Kip Wells has been promoted by #padres and will start tomorrow in houston in front of family. Terrific comeback story.— Jon Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) June 25, 2012
The first part of that tweet is just facts. Kip Wells is joining the Padres, and he will indeed start on Tuesday. I'm focusing on the end, the "terrific comeback story" part. That stuck out to me, because as much as Wells seems like a terrific comeback story, is he, really?
On paper, it's crazy that Wells is back in the majors. He's 35 years old, he last pitched in the majors in 2009, he spent part of 2010 with the independent Long Island Ducks, and if Wells threw any pitches in 2011, they were in his backyard. He had no professional baseball gig that Baseball-Reference is aware of, which means he had no professional baseball gig. Maybe he spent time with his family. Maybe he spent time away from his family.
And now Wells is back, after all that time off. Earlier he signed a minor-league contract with the White Sox that didn't last. Then he signed a minor-league contract with the Padres, and a month and a half later, here he is. Wells has reportedly thrown in the 90s. Great story. Great comeback story.
But. Absolutely, it's inspiring that Wells is returning to the major leagues, and it presumably took a lot of work for him to get to this point. But you have to consider the circumstances around his promotion. Wells has not earned his way to the majors like many others do.
This all has to do with the state of the Padres' pitching staff. The Padres have a miserable record, and maybe you expected the Padres to have a miserable record, so maybe you haven't been paying attention to all of their shit luck. But the Padres came into the season with some prayer of reaching .500. They're not going to do that, because their rotation has been ravaged.
In early April, Tim Stauffer went on the disabled list with an elbow injury. He rehabbed, he made one start, then he went back on the disabled list with the same elbow injury. He's on the big DL, not the normal DL.
In early April, Dustin Moseley went on the disabled list with a shoulder injury. He underwent labrum and capsule surgery and won't be back until some point in 2013, if everything goes smoothly.
In late April, Micah Owings went on the disabled list with a strained forearm. His return isn't imminent, and while Owings wasn't a starter, he could've been a starter. He started four games in the majors in 2011.
In early May, Cory Luebke went on the disabled list with an elbow injury. The very underrated starter underwent Tommy John surgery and was lost for the season.
In the middle of May, Joe Wieland went on the disabled list with an elbow injury. An MRI didn't show any damage, but the team is taking things cautiously, and at this point Wieland is still without a return timetable.
In early June, Eric Stults went on the disabled list with a strained lat. He had started four times for the Padres, but was set to miss a month.
Just Sunday, Anthony Bass went on the disabled list with shoulder inflammation. Nobody's panicking yet, and Bass reported feeling some improvement, but you have to be careful with shoulder problems, so Bass' return date is unclear.
What's happened to the Padres' rotation has been just devastating. Clayton Richard and Edinson Volquez have remained healthy, so it hasn't been a complete nightmare, but a dozen pitchers have started at least once for San Diego. They just gave a start to Ross Ohlendorf. They gave six starts to Jeff Suppan. They gave half a dozen starts to Jeff Suppan. They gave more than five starts to Jeff Suppan, but less than seven starts to Jeff Suppan. Remember that the Padres chose Jeff Suppan, six times, before we ever got to the point where they promoted Kip Wells.
And now they've promoted Kip Wells. What has Wells been able to do in triple-A with his revitalized fastball? He's thrown 38 innings over seven starts. He's recorded 20 walks and 16 strikeouts. In his most recent start against Las Vegas, he retired 13 batters while allowing seven runs. Just three-fifths of his pitches have been thrown for strikes, and he's allowed too much contact. Kip Wells has not been a good triple-A pitcher. Kip Wells has not been a mediocre triple-A pitcher. He's been a pretty bad triple-A pitcher, and the Padres are bringing him to the majors despite himself.
The guy we'll forever flash back to now in these situations is Ryan Vogelsong, on account of his excellent adventure. Vogelsong wasn't great, then he went to Japan and wasn't great, then he wound up in the majors and was great. There are some parallels, but Vogelsong performed reasonably well in the minors after returning from overseas, and he's obviously been nails with the Giants. Vogelsong is one of the greatest comeback stories in baseball.
Kip Wells didn't really earn this return to the majors, unless you think he earned it simply by coming back and pitching. His is a comeback story, because it's a story of him coming back, but he's not coming back because some team really and truly believes in his ability -- he's coming back because the Padres' starting rotation has been royally f***ed. They were very literally almost out of options. Matt Palmer has been a teammate of Wells' in triple-A, and he's been ineffective. Same with Anthony Reyes. The Padres grabbed Wells because he has a warm body and an arm that isn't injured yet.
Maybe Wells is amazing. This looks like a short-term assignment, but maybe he grabs this opportunity by the nuts and forces the Padres to keep him in the bigs. Maybe Wells goes all Vogelsong. You wouldn't think that kind of thing could happen, but it happened once. In that event, then this would truly become a hell of a comeback story, and one we couldn't really explain with reason and logic. As is, Wells' comeback story has only a little to do with Kip Wells. Feel happy for him all you want, but realize Wells has a happy story right now only because so many other guys have sad ones.