For the third straight season C.J. Wilson was a solid hurler. However, his first season with the Angels certainly did not live up to the expectations that were placed on his shoulder after two excellent seasons with the Rangers. Why was that? Turns out it’s not because he sucks (I think). It was likely because he was hurt.
You may have forgotten this because of the awful work in the second half which included a 4-5 record a 5.54 ERA an a 1.57 WHIP, but in the first half of the season Wilson was as good as he had ever been, and that is not hyperbole. At the All-Star Break C.J. was 9-5 with a 2.43 ERA and 1.16 WHIP as he made the All-Star team (deservedly). So what the heck happened in the second half that caused him to go from being an All-Star to Ubaldo Jimenez‘s twin brother? An injury to his elbow. Wilson never used the injury as an excuse, but clearly there was something wrong. Turns out he had bone spurs in his elbow. “It’s one of those things where you push yourself through anything because your job is to go out there and pitch,” said Wilson. “I tried to make a million adjustments to get around it… I can’t throw sinkers anymore because my arm doesn’t work right.” Wilson had the surgery on October 23rd, and reports suggest that there is no reason to think he wont be able to go full bore by the time Spring Training starts.
So, admitting that there was a physical issue that severely limited him late in the year, let’s look back at 2012 and see how his overall performance turned out.
After winning 15 and 16 games the previous two years he won 13 games in ’12. He made 34 starts, a third straight year with at least 33 starts, and though his total of 202.1 innings was a three years low it’s still a solid total in today’s day and age and his third straight 200 inning season.
For a third straight season his ERA was under 3.85, a solid but not great number in the AL. Of course, that number is that high because of a 3.83 ERA in 2012 after he posted a combined 3.14 ERA the previous two seasons.
Wilson saw his WHIP go up substantially. After posting a 1.21 WHIP in 2010-11, that number rose to 1.34. To be fair to Wilson we’ve go that injury to keep in mind. There is also the fact that his career WHIP is 1.30. How about the fact that after a 7.41 hit per nine mark the last two years that the number went up to 8.05 in 2012. Were hitters better against Wilson causing that hit mark to rise? Well, his BABIP of .281 was six points lower than his ’11 mark, and it’s five points below his career rate. His 19.9 percent line drive rate was a three year high, and it’s above his 19.2 career mark, but it’s far from being an outlandish total. Batters did post a five year high in batting average, but it’s hard to look at a .239 BAA and think a guy has stunk.
The real issue for Wilson is that he lost control of the strike zone, and it’s hard to blame the elbow as the sole issue there (though it likely contributed). In the second half Wilson had a 4.15 BB/9 mark, only slightly higher than his first half rate of 3.96 when he was healthy. Simply, he wasn’t very good all year long. Not that it’s a shock given that his career mark is 3.82 walks per nine or the fact that he’s now posted a BB/9 mark of at least 3.91 in five of the past six seasons. It might be wise to admit to yourself that his 2.98 BB/9 mark in 2011 was the outlier. The truth is that Wilson has strong stuff, batters have a hard time hitting putting the barrel on the ball, but he also has a hard time locating his pitches at times.
On the plus side, even though Wilson said he struggled with the sinker, his ball was still heavy enough to warrant a 50.3 percent ground ball rate, his highest mark in three years. The result was a 1.68 GB/FB ratio that is better than his marks from the previous two seasons (1.47 and 1.55). Despite the increase in grounders though, Wilson somehow had a four year high in his HR/9 ratio of 0.85. You know the reason. His HR/F ratio reached 10.8 percent after a three year run of less than 8.5 percent. Despite the lack of fly balls, he was relatively snake-bit when compared to his established level.
Wilson isn’t a perfect pitcher. He walks too many batters, always has, and that limits his upside despite the fact that he strikes out a large amount of batters (8.01 K/9 for his career) and that he generates a ton of ground balls (50.6 percent for his career). He has dominating stuff and when he’s locked in, like he was in the first half of last season, he’s a borderline ace. Blame the second half woes on that elbow issue and use that second half lull in production to allow you to roster Wilson much later on draft day than his skills dictate he should be taken.
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By Ray Flowers