It’d have been surprising for a team in the Diamondbacks’ position — dismal bullpen, No. 1 waiver priority, multiple open 40-man spots — to pass on Wendelken. The right-hander hasn’t had a great season in Oakland, but his work leading up to the 2021 campaign was quite strong.
From 2018-20, Wendelken pitched 74 1/3 innings for the A’s, working to a 2.30 ERA with a strong 26.4 percent strikeout rate and a very solid 8.4 percent walk rate. The righty also thrived in terms of limiting hard contact, yielding an 86.6 mph average exit velocity, a 30.6 percent overall hard-hit rate and just a 2.1 percent barrel rate. Fielding-independent pitching metrics weren’t quite as bullish as his baseline ERA (3.04 FIP, 3.72 SIERA) but still generally agreed that Wendelken was a solid reliever.
The 2021 season hasn’t gone quite as well, but Wendelken has pitched to a respectable 4.32 ERA in 25 frames. His 22.2 percent strikeout rate is his lowest since a brief rookie debut in 2016, and his 11.1 percent walk rate is a career-high. Still, the 28-year-old has continued to limit hard contact effectively, and his swinging-strike and chase rates have actually improved over their 2020 marks.
Wendelken will be arbitration-eligible for the first time this winter, and the D-backs can control him through the 2024 season via that arbitration process. He’s out of minor league options, so he’ll have to stick on the big league roster, but based on his past 100 innings in the Majors, there’s reason to think he can stick.
It’s always possible that Wendelken’s strikeout and walk tendencies continue to trend in the wrong direction, but there’s no reason for the last-place D-backs to pass on a risk-free flier. Arizona relievers rank second-to-last in the Majors with a combined 5.41 ERA, so Wendelken is an upgrade even if he doesn’t quite return to his peak form.