Player Profile 2013: C.J. Wilson
Arte Moreno might look like the world’s most interesting man, but the Angels number two starter C.J. Wilson might actually be the world’s most interesting man. Many a blogger has put down thousands of words concerning Mr. Wilson’s extracurricular activities. From racing to break dancing, C.J. covers virtually the entire hobby spectrum. So much so, that I’m going to let this video take over from here.
Drafted out of Loyola Marymount University, Wilson only once cracked the Rangers top 10 prospects, and never ranked in the top 100 of all baseball prospects. After call ups in 2005 and 2006, Wilson became an everyday member of the Rangers bullpen in 2007 and subsequently posted an ERA of 3.03 across 68⅓ innings and was given the closer role after Eric Gagne was traded that season. A solid improvement on the 4.06 ERA that he posted in 44⅓ innings in 2006 and was now an important cog in the Rangers bullpen after being, more or less, unimpressive during his minor league career. Named the closer coming into 2008, Wilson was poised to cement himself at the back end of the Rangers bullpen. He flopped, and flopped fantastically at that. Across 46⅓ innings in 2008, Wilson put up a 6.02 ERA and was leveled by a preposterous 16.3% HR/FB rate. He would convert 24 saves, but an elbow injury (we’ll talk about this later) shut him down and he would lose the closer to role to Frank Francisco.
After successful offseason surgery to remove a bone spur in Wilson’s left elbow (sound familiar?), C.J. entered the 2009 season as the setup man to Frank Francisco, and then went on to have his best season as a reliever. Pitching 73⅔ innings, C.J. posted an ERA of 2.81 (new career best) and put up SO/9 of 10.3. The former Fountain Valley Baron and one time ho hum minor league prospect had arrived, but he wouldn’t remain in the bullpen for long. Wilson had expressed to the Rangers organization about returning to starting in 2006, and after his strong performance in 2009, the Rangers decided to give Wilson a shot going into the 2010 season and told him to be prepared to start by spring training.
Like the first person who added hollandaise to an egg mcmuffin giving us the delicious eggs benedict, the move was perfect. After compiling a total of 280⅔ career major league innings, the straight edge Taoist threw 204 innings in his first season as a starter putting up a 3.35 ERA and a SO/9 of 7.5. He still had trouble with walking people (4.1 BB/9), but the transition was seamless, and considering his home ballpark’s bandbox reputation, his 0.4 HR/9 was better than anyone could ask for. So, how do you improve upon a season in which your expectations were around that of what an average number five starter would provide? You become an All Star, that’s how you improve. To date, C.J.’s 2011 season is his best. 223⅓ innings pitched, a 2.94 ERA, SO/9 rose to 8.3 and he put up an incredible WHIP of 1.187. The best part, he cut out a full walk per nine innings pitched, lowering his BB/9 to 3.0. An All Star, a number one starter for the Rangers, and heading into free agency, Wilson and his positive mental attitude had arrived.
Prior to 2012, Wilson signed a five year $77.5 million deal with the Angels (of course he did, why else would I be writing about him here?) and became a member of what was supposed to be one of the most heralded rotations in baseball history. Now, the only fair way to sum up Christopher John’s 2012 season is to talk about it in two halves. In the first half of the season, he was as advertised. Across 111⅓ innings his ERA was sitting at 2.43 with a WHIP of 1.159. He earned a trip to the All Star Game and was solid number two behind our other All Star pitcher Jered Weaver. The hometown product was performing as he was expected too. Fans couldn’t be happier and everything was it was supposed to be. Then came the second half, which can be summed up in one word…..ugly. 91 innings, a 5.54 ERA and a WHIP of 1.571. I say again, ugly. As the season wound down, reports came out that C.J. was pitching with a bone spur in his left elbow (Remember that whole “talking about this later” thing? Yeah, we’re almost there) that was limiting his extension and at one point forced him to abandon throwing his splitter altogether because of the pain. Overall, a 3.83 ERA and a 1.344 WHIP coupled with a BB/9 rising back up to 4.0 were not the finish line numbers that fans expected to see from their new pitcher, but that’s baseball.
Slingin’ PMA in 2013 at ya fools.
Unless of course you’re ZiPS. Szymborski expects C.J. to throw less than 200 innings this year (193) have a career average K% (20%) and improve marginally on his BB% (9.5%) while finishing with average-ish ERA (3.49), and this time, I disagree. This is where the numbers fail and peeling back the layers on a season are absolutely necessary. By the numbers, Wilson’s 2012 was sub-par compared to what was expected and what he has done as a starter up to this point. But, factor in that he was pitching through an injury that shut him down in 2008 and his performance becomes – not acceptable – understandable. And I behoove you to not forget that after having this procedure done in 2008, his 2009 was – up to that point – a career year for Wilson. ZiPS could be pointing to his age as a reason for its projections (suggesting the start of a natural decline), but again would be missing the target. Wilson for his career has thrown 910⅓ big league innings and is heading into his age 32 season. For comparisons sake, the Angels Ace, Jered Weaver, has thrown 1,320⅓ big league innings. The “low mileage” arm is a real thing, and for a soon to be 32 year old pitcher, the amount of innings Wilson has pitched is well behind the curve of where a 32 year old should be at.
Please, please, please don’t break.
If any of our pitchers are to go down, ready, willing and waiting in the wings is an entire staff AAAA pitcher types. With the exception of Jerome Williams (the magic pixie dust will wear off eventually) and Garrett Richards (Not sold on him), the rest of the depth chart at the position strikes fear into the hearts of absolutely nobody. If any of the pitchers at the back end of the rotation were to go down with injuries, the replacement would at least be on par with what was already in that rotation spot. If either Weaver or Wilson go down, it will be imperative that I break out the voodoo dolls and start weaving magic spells over the teams within the division. Luckily – aside from the two bone spur issues in his past – Wilson has been quite healthy throughout his career, and more of the same should be expected. But, he is a pitcher, and that is arguably the most volatile position in all of baseball. It should never be assumed that a pitchers elbow or shoulder won’t explode during a pitch.
C.J. Wilson is no stranger low expectations, he is no stranger to coming back from elbow surgery and he is no stranger to the pressure that comes with being at the front end of the rotation. He became a starter in 2010 and was slotted as the number three. That October, he was pitching Game 2 of the ALDS. In 2011, he was the Rangers Ace and Opening Day starter. Now, he is the number two to Jered Weaver, but could conceivably pitch more like a co-Ace than Weaver’s sidekick in the rotation. For all the grief and worry that fans have been throwing around this offseason concerning the Angels rotation – and yes, a lot of it is warranted – Christopher John Wilson’s presence on the mound should illicit no such worries. He’s not just the Angels number two starter; he’s the hometown kid that made good, even when his career was heading nowhere. He’s got that PMA, and I suggest you catch what he’s got.