The best lefty on the free agent market, if not the best starting pitcher available regardless of the arm he chucks the ball with, is C.J. Wilson. He’s been pretty darn awful in the playoffs the past two years, he just can’t seem to throw strikes this year, but that doesn’t take away from his excellent work the last two years on the hill during the regular season. Here are those two efforts, and when you look at them it’s easy to see why someone might throw untold millions of dollars at him this offseason.
2010: 15-8, 3.35 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 170 Ks in 204 IP
2011: 16-7, 2.94 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 206 Ks in 223.1 IP
Since 2010 was his first big league season as a starter, many were waiting for him to do it again before buying in. Well, consider that group of outcasts sold as he not only repeated his 2010 effort, he actually improved upon it.
Why was Wilson successful? Let me count the ways.
(1) He took the ball 34 times and worked deep into games in 2011. That always gives a hurler a chance to rack up the wins.
(2) He upped his K-rate to 8.30 per nine. That’s pretty impressive for two reasons. First, it was a significant improvement on his 7.50 mark from 2010. Second, it was actually better than his 8.10 career mark.
(3) He keeps inducing ground balls. 2011 was his seventh season in the big leagues, and for the seventh time he posted a ground ball rate of at least 49 percent. Because of all those grounders he slightly upped his 1.47 GB/FB ratio from 2010 to 1.55.
(4) All those grounders also allowed him to stay away from the big fly which helps him to limit the big innings. Wilson allowed a HR/F mark of 8.8 percent, slightly below the 9-10 percent big league average, and smack dab on his career mark.
(5) He’s done all of this pitching in the American League in a ballpark that clearly favors the offense. A move to a different park, or at least to the NL, would certainly help.
So, as a 31 year old lefty coming off two near elite seasons, are there any concerns? There’s at least one. Wilson made 10 starts this year against the Athletics (six) and the Mariners (four). In those 10 outings Wilson went 6-3 with a 2.43 ERA and 1.12 WHIP. Take away those 10 outings and Wilson went 10-4 with a 3.18 ERA an a 1.22 WHIP. Those are still strong numbers, but they are less impressive than what he did when pitching against the lowest scoring team in baseball (the Mariners), and the 12th team out of 14 in the AL (the Athletics). So I had to stretch to find something negative.
There might be some legitimate concerns about Wilson’s age, he’ll be 31 in a few weeks, but given that he has thrown more than 75 innings only twice in his seven year big league career there shouldn’t be too much worry about a breakdown. He’s also a lefty, an as I say all the time, he possesses the best skills combo a pitcher can have – he’s a strike out and ground ball hurler. All of that sets up Wilson to be the highest paid arm on the free agent market. Given his performance the last two seasons it’s a fair bet that whomever pays him will also see a nice return on that investment… if he can stay healthy.
By Ray Flowers
Tags: C.J. Wilson