Aces on the Move: CJ Wilson, Heath Bell, and Joe Nathan
BY ROB SHAW
CJ Wilson may have been the top arm on the market this off-season, but the pressure is certainly not as intense on the hurler as it is on Albert Pujols. The reason is very simple, while Pujols is the best hitter in the world Wilson isn’t even the best arm on the Angels.
Wilson’s struggles in the postseason may have left a bad taste in the mouth of Rangers fans, but the hurler is actually in a much better situation now that he flees the hitter-friendly Ballpark at Arlington. Putting the 2011 playoffs aside, the year as whole brough great improvement for Wilson. His strikeouts went up while his walks went down.
Another factor for Wilson this season will be his run support. Typically leaving the Rangers, who are loaded with sluggers, will result in a decline of run support. However, that is not the case since Pujols will also join the Angels who already have some former first basemen who know something about providing big bats.
The Angels will be fun to watch for many reasons, and after falling to Pujols and the Cardinals in the postseason last season, Wilson should enjoy the shot at winning with Pujols as his teammate manning first base.
It made perfect sense for the Miami Marlins to sign Heath Bell. The veteran hurler has three straight seasons with 40-plus saves and while the Marlins have had some success in their bullpen in recent years, it has not been as dominant as what the Padres enjoyed. There is just one problem with bringing in Bell and expecting everything to run smoothly. There are signs that the 34-year-old may be losing his effectiveness.
A late bloomer with the Mets, Bell broke out in San Diego, where he had the benefit of little media attention and one of the most favorable ballparks for pitchers. In fact his 2.88 ERA on the road last season was not as dominant as the 2.15 ERA he posted at PETCO Park.
Bell also regressed as a strikeout hurler. His 11 K/9 dropped to 7 K/9, as his whiff rate fell by 9%. This is not just a matter of Bell losing velocity, in fact, the main issue has been a loss of effectiveness in his curveball. In 2010, the opposition hit just .141 against that pitch, and last season it spiked two-fold to .282. The out-pitch is not recording as many outs.
Bell should enjoy plenty of save opportunities since the Marlins did improve their starting rotation and offense, but there should be less heralded hurlers in fantasy leagues who can end up posting better numbers this season.
At first glance, last year was a disaster for long-time Twins closer Joe Nathan. His ERA doubled, his strikeouts declined, and his saves were cut drastically. Of course, Nathan was also returning to the mound after missing all of the 2010 with a major arm injury.
On that note, Nathan’s statistics should be measured differently. Rather than focus on the full season, we should pay greater attention to the end of the season when he finally shed all of his rust. From June 25th on, Nathan was his usual dominant self. His WHIP was a dominant 0.90 from that point forward, which suggests that even in his late 30s, Nathan still possesses the ability to dominate.
Nathan now joins the Texas Rangers, and while he will throw the ball in a much more hitter-friendly ballpark, he joins a better club that will likely result in more save opportunities. The ERA may take a slight uptick, but overall he will enjoy more saves and have more value assuming he can stay healthy. It also allows some of the younger hurlers to take on larger roles in the starting rotation.