During my time as a baseball blogger, I’ve learned that if fans of America’s pastime are going to geek out over anything during the off season, it’s going to be caused by one of two things: 1) A player acquisition, be it through free agency or trade; or 2) A paper doll cut out. That’s why we got the infinitely talented graphics department at The Score to combine the two as a means of supporting our ongoing pursuit of attention and page views.
Ahead of the winter meetings next week, we’re going to take a look at five of the top players available this off season and mention some of their potential destinations. After looking at Albert Pujols yesterday, we continue our vintage image nostalgia today with the one and only C.J. Wilson.
The greatest proof of the divide between front offices and talent evaluators in baseball occurred this past post season when journalists quoted scouts ahead of every C.J. Wilson playoff start claiming that millions of dollars were on the line with every pitch. Wilson’s less than ideal post season hasn’t scared teams away nearly as much as his reported asking price.
As you may have gathered from Jon Heyman’s aside, Wilson isn’t represented by Scott Boras. However, that doesn’t mean that Heyman isn’t accurate when he suggests that the celebrated straight edge pitcher isn’t going to command anything close to that figure on the free agent market.
Only 18 players in baseball history have been guaranteed $20 million for a single season. Wilson won’t be one of them. Nor should he. Not only is he not among the elite starting pitchers in the Major Leagues, he’s likely not even a number one starter on most teams.
According to ESPN’s Keith Law:
His slider is his most effective pitch, a low-80s offering with good tilt that hitters hit into the ground when they don’t swing over it, and he’ll throw it down and away to a left-handed hitter or throw it at the back foot of a right-handed one. His weakness is fringy fastball command. He throws strikes with his heater but fails to locate it within the zone.
A breakdown of his individual pitch results this past season echo Law’s analysis and indicate rather average stuff, which is surprising given his startlingly good overall numbers since becoming a starting pitcher in 2010. Only eight other pitchers have a higher fWAR over that time period.
It would be easy to suggest that this discrepancy is the combination of his high ground ball rate and the somewhat under appreciated infield defense that the Rangers boast with (from left to right) Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus, Ian Kinsler and Mitch Moreland. However, Michael Young’s 1370 innings at third base in 2010 throws something of a wrench into this theory. Besides, his opposition’s BABIP is only slightly below average and FanGraphs’ pitching wins above replacement is based on a player’s fielding independent pitching numbers, not ERA or total runs allowed.
I wonder if in this case his “fringy fastball command” is something of a blessing in disguise. To this point, the danger from his inability to locate in the zone hasn’t caught up with him. Instead it’s kept batters guessing. How else to explain his pedestrian numbers at everything other than the rate at which batters swing at his pitches in the strike zone? Over the last two seasons, only Doug Fister has had a fewer percentage of swings on pitches he’s put in the zone. That’s a lot of called strikes.
It appears as though this skill is somewhat repeatable, with pitchers like Trevor Cahill, Tom Glavine, Derek Lowe and Barry Zito among those able to maintain a low swing rate at pitches in the zone for at least a couple of seasons. The majority of high called strike seasons appear to be one offs though. And it’s certainly not a skill in which I’d be willing to invest in for six years, let alone for $120 million dollars.
Normally, a left handed pitcher who has already exhibited skill at keeping the ball in the park, would be a godsend for the New York Yankees. Taking a look at the fly ball outs that Wilson incurred over the last two years at his home stadium, which had the highest home run park factor in the league in 2011, as though they were hit at Yankee Stadium should make the Yankees positively giddy at his availability.
However, their overtures, if they exist at all have been muted. So to have the Rangers’ efforts to bring back their ace from last year. In fact, they’ve appeared to have already replaced Wilson by once again taking a closer and turning him into a starter, this time with Neftali Feliz.
The loudest proposal to date has come from the Miami Marlins, who have been rather eager to rack up lunch bills at Joe’s Stone Crab entertaining the highest profile free agents. Whether the noise is legitimate or not remains to be seen, but given the low ball offer they sent to Albert Pujols, I’m sticking with my theory that their dalliances have more to do with optics than actually fielding a good baseball team.
In fact, the team that I like the most to land Wilson doesn’t appear among our paper doll destination options: the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
Sure, the Angels rotation has been a source of strength for a team inundated with DH types still playing in positions to which they’re no longer accustomed. However, new GM Jerry Dipoto is open to the idea of building upon an area of strength this winter.
I don’t know that you can ever have enough pitching. When you have an opportunity to sit down and talk with the likes of C.J. Wilson, you at least want to express that level of interest. Clearly he’s been very, very good in recent years, and he’s a guy we do have interest in.
Making this match even more heavenly is that Wilson was born in Newport Beach, California and went to school at Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles.
My prediction: Wilson signs a five year contract worth $80 million with the Angels that gives Wilson the respect he’s earned while keeping Jered Weaver the highest paid pitcher on the team.