by Eno Sarris //
In the case of C.J. Wilson, it’s time to give Tommy Rancel a little credit for identifying him as a possible sleeper in the pre-season (while also illuminating some of the concerns with moving a pitcher from the bullpen to the rotation). Now that Wilson has started out well, the question immediately shifts to his value going forward, and whether or not he is a sell-high candidate. Despite struggling in his last two starts, his year-to-date numbers look strong, as the Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Tool charts to the right show.
At our disposal, we have tools like FIP (fielding independent pitching, which strips out batted ball luck and produces a number on the ERA scale). Wilson’s’ FIP is a decent 3.72. That’s probably the result of his lower strikeout rate (6.75 K/9) and .275 BABIP. While the strikeout rate is barely above average (6.6 K/9), the BABIP is actually less of a concern than usual.
Not all BABIPs are created equal. We talk about how it generally trends toward .300 across baseball, but that presupposes an average defense. Not all defenses are created equal. The Texas Rangers have the fifth-best defense in baseball when measured by UZR/150 – Ultimate Zone Rating. UZR attempts to take player positioning and ball trajectory, as well as home park intricacies, into account when rating defense. With Michael Young moved over to third base, defensive whiz Elvis Andrus doing great glove work – and even young Justin Smoak “Monster” bringing a nice glove with him to the major leagues – the ranking passes the sniff test. Finally, the Rangers as a team have allowed a .290 BABIP. So Wilson’s .275 BABIP may rise, but perhaps not as much as the average pitcher.
We are still left with a precipitous drop in Wilson’s strikeout rate. After setting a career high last year (10.26 K/9), some regression was inevitable due to his change in roles. Now that he’s dropped below his career rate (8.09 K/9), it’s hard to say what’s to come. We know that velocity and effectiveness usually drop with a move to the rotation, as pitchers can’t go all out every pitch for seven innings as a starter than they can for an inning or two as a reliever. Even accounting for those expected declines, though, Wilson’s velocity has fallen more than the average 0.7 MPH gap between starter and reliever (as Jeremy Greenhouse showed in an article last month). In fact, his fastball velocity has dropped 2.9 MPH with the move.
Still, we have a pitcher that has an average walk rate, a barely above-average strikeout rate, and one solid skill on his side. Wilson has continued inducing worm-burning grounders at a good rate (53.3% this year, 53% career), and that can limit the damage, as evidenced by his 0.48 HR/9 rate – it’s hard to get hit out of the park on the ground. While a home run rate that low is usually unsustainable, the nine pitchers that averaged less than 0.6 home runs per nine last year averaged a 49.3% groundball rate.
Of course if you can get a return on Wilson from an owner that values him as an ace, do it. But always consider context. I’m currently in a Blog Wars league where I am about to accept a trade – my Roy Oswalt for his Miguel Montero and C.J. Wilson. I need the offense in this two-catcher deep league, and I don’t think the step down is too steep for my staff to handle. As you can see, the Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Tools trade analyzer likes the trade, an encouraging sign.
For more on C.J. Wilson and possible trade targets, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Tools.