Monday, November 14, 2011

AB4AR Free Agent Profile: C.J. Wilson

(Would you give $90 mil to this guy?  Courtesy of Getty Images)

CC Sabathia, the biggest potential fish in the free agent pitching pond, has been back in the fold for the Yankees for a couple weeks now.  And since the Yankees avoided any long, drawn out negotiations with him, Cash has been able to get the ball rolling on the process of courting other free agent targets.  The Yankees made no secret that their goal this offseason was to bolster their rotation, and while there aren't any other CCs or Cliff Lees out there, there are a few interesting possibilities.  This week at AB4AR, I'll take a look at some of the Yankees' biggest starting pitching targets, starting with everyone's favorite left-handed converted reliever, C.J. Wilson.


- Workload increase going from reliever to starter hasn't been a problem for Wilson, who jumped from 73.2 IP in '09 to 204.1 in 2010 (plus 24.1 more in the postseason) and then to 252.1 total in the regular season and postseason in 2011 without any arm or stuff issues.  In fact, Wilson's average velocity velocity increased from 2010 to 2011.

- Wilson hasn't just been a workhorse the last 2 years, he's been a damn good pitcher too.  He's got an ERA in the low 3.00s over the past 2 seasons as a starter and a FIP just slightly higher.  His ERA/FIP/xFIP tripleslash in 2011 was 2.94/3.24/3.41, numbers certainly indicative of a #1-#2-type starter.  He's also accumulated 10.5 WAR as a starter over the last 2 seasons and is a beast on lefties.

- Wilson lowered his BB/9 from 4.10 in 2010 to just 2.98 this past year while increasing his K/9 from 7.50 in 2010 back up to 8.30 in 2011, much closer to the K rates he used to post as a reliever.  And between his 3 different fastballs and 3 offspeed offerings (slider, change, curve), Wilson has 6 legit pitches at his disposal, all of which he used well in 2011 to up his Swinging Strike percentage from 6.7% to 8.3%.

- Grounders, grounders, grounders.  Wilson has had a GB% of either 49.2 or 49.3% in 5 of the last 6 seasons, and the one season he didn't post that rate he put up an even better one of 55.4% in '09.  Keeping the ball on the ground more is always a bonus in homer happy Yankee Stadium.

- At 30 years old and with only 2 full seasons of starter work on his resume, Wilson is in the prime of his career and doesn't have nearly the wear and tear on his arm that other pitchers his age have.  This suggests the potential for him to at least continue this level of production over the next few years.


- While he has been healthy the last 2 seasons, Wilson's career is littered with injury issues, including TJS in 2003, elbow and shoulder problems in 2008, and blisters in 2009.  Given that track record, these last 2 seasons of clean health bills could just mean he's due to get hurt again.

- While 2011 was a good year for him in terms of command, Wilson's previous lowest BB rate was 3.38 BB/9 in 2005, and he's had 2 seasons over 4.00 and one over 5.00.  So he's not exactly the most efficient cat on the block, and the Yankees already have plenty of inefficiency in their rotation with Burnett and Hughes.

- He's a Type-A free agent this year, and the Rangers would be stupid not to offer him arbitration, so the Yankees are looking at giving up another 1st-round pick if they sign him.

- His postseason track record is nothing to write home about, in fact it's downright bad.  Small sample size surely plays a part, but Wilson has thrown 52.1 playoff innings over the last 2 seasons and has given up 28 ER and 29 BB in those innings.  This past postseason was particularly brutal, as Wilson put up a 5.79 ERA and 6.31 FIP.  It's something that the media and fans will point to in an argument against him, so it's only fair to mention it here, small sample sizes be damned.

- While he's a "young" 30, Wilson still turns 31 this offseason and he'll likely command at least the 5 years/$82 million that A.J. Burnett and John Lackey got, if not more.  By signing him, and his injury history, the Yankees would be committing themselves long term to another pitcher who will end his contract in his mid-to-late-30s.

His numbers over the last 2 seasons make Wilson look like the ideal #2 starter for the Yankees, an innings machine who strikes guys out, keeps the ball on the ground and in the yard, and has a multitude of pitches with which to work.  But the lack of track record in terms of health, BB rate, and workload is a concern to me, and I see Wilson and his agent commanding more than the 5/$82 mil that A.J. got because his performance over the last 2 seasons is better than what A.J. did.  If the talks start moving towards 6 or 7 years and 90-100 million bucks, I think the Yankees would be wise to take a pass on Wilson.  And honestly, I'd be surprised if they did sign him.  This feels like another case of Cash getting involved to drive the price up for his competition.  I guess we'll see what happens.

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