Game 155, Mariners at Angels
Felix Hernandez vs. CJ Wilson, 7:05pm
Happy Felix Day!
The Angels signed left-hander CJ Wilson to a five year, $77.5m contract this past December, getting the most sought-after hurler on the free agent market to pair with the most sought-after hitter on the free agent market. Pairing Wilson with Jered Weaver and Dan Haren instantly made the Angels rotation one of the league’s best, and with Jerome Williams continuing his improbable comeback, Ervin Santana seemingly the league’s best #4 starter and prospect Garrett Richards waiting in the wings, the Angels looked set to post microscopic runs-allowed numbers. That hasn’t exactly happened, and the Angels and M’s come into today’s game with essentially dead even starting rotations. This is true despite the fact that the Angels added another Cy Young winner at mid-season while the M’s biggest improvement was simply taking the ball away from Hector Noesi for a while.
The M’s rotation has the slightly better FIP, but the Angels move ahead in overall value when you park-adjust. The Angels have the edge in xFIP, while the M’s take a tiny lead in ERA, RA, and innings pitched. This is a statistical dead heat, and while pitching and defense has been the M’s strength (almost by default) for years now, the fact that the Angels rotation has produced mediocre value this season is the primary reason they’re looking up at both the Rangers and Athletics.
CJ Wilson’s 2012 has been a microcosm of the Angels’. Wilson’s been perfectly serviceable, with an ERA and FIP just under 4; he’s earned 2.5 fWAR thus far, or 2.1 RA-9 WAR. That’s above average performance, and he’ll likely earn every penny of his $10m salary this year. That said, Angels fans may look differently at his $20m wage bill in 2016 than they did in December/January. This isn’t sour grapes, and Wilson is young enough that he could rebound to his 2011 form. With more cable TV deals looming (including the M’s ability to renegotiate their own in a few years), it’s possible that no one will care about $20m salaries in 2016. But the Angels were buying 2011 CJ Wilson, and so far, they’ve gotten the 2010 model.
A reliever in his first few years with the Rangers, Wilson made the transition to the rotation in 2010 and turned in a surprisingly good season for the AL Champs. He struck out 20% of the hitters he faced and rode an amazing BABIP to a great ERA and 15 wins. Still, there were signs that he might regress in 2011 – the BABIP was too good to be true, and his HR rate was just as lucky. He walked too many batters, and no one knew how a career reliever would fare in his second year of a 200 inning marathon in the rotation. In 2011, his BABIP regressed and his HR rate regressed (as expected), but his peripherals improved dramatically. Not even Ranger fans projected this new, improved Wilson – the guy who somehow threw harder than in 2011 while cutting his walks AND increasing his strikeouts. Wilson posted 6 WAR (using FIP or RA) in his walk-year.
Wilson’s velocity is higher this year than in either of his two previous campaigns, and his GB% is up a bit – but other than that, it’s astonishing how much his 2012 resembles his 2010. He’s K rate’s 19.9% now compared to 20.0% then, and his walk rate’s a bit lower at 10.2% than 2010’s 10.9%. But fundamentally, he’s having a very similar season, albeit without the freakishly low HR/FB% and BABIP. One problem is that he’s falling behind more, as his strike percentage is nearly identical to his 2010 mark. And when batters swing, they make contact at similar rates to 2010 – rates that are noticeably higher than they were in 2012.
In hindsight, one of the keys to Wilson’s 2011 may have been his performance against right-handers. As a lefty, Wilson faces a steady diet of RHBs – he’s typically faced about 3.5 times as many right-handers than lefties. His xFIP against them in 2010 was 4.36, nearly identical to this year’s 4.34. In 2011, he posted a much better K:BB ratio, which more than balanced out his increased HR rate. In addition, he was able to work around batter’s counts in 2011, as his four-seam fastball was either well-located enough or lucky enough to avoid the sweet spot, whereas in 2012, hitters are able to sit on the fastball in 1-0, 2-0 counts.
As Wilson’s own career demonstrates, all of these factors – factors that often underlie a pitcher’s “true” outcomes – can be volatile. None of this argues that Wilson’s contract was foolish or that he’ll continue his slide from his 2011 peak. It’s just a recognition that free agent pitchers are a huge gamble, and that the M’s have essentially matched the production of what was once thought of as the best rotation in baseball for pennies on the dollar. This isn’t because of injury (Wilson has been extremely durable thus far, which bodes well for the Angels), it’s because veteran pitchers aren’t the safe bets that many fans think they are.
Except for Felix.
4: Montero (DH)
6: Olivo (C)
SP: King Felix woooooooo
Wow. I know Wilson’s a lefty, and he’s got platoon splits, but the M’s sit Jaso for a Felix start to get Olivo in there? And Figgins?
Larry Stone’s got a great blog poston the MLB umpires’ strike of 1979. The recent labor unpleasantness in the NFL also reminds me of the recent *minor* league umpire strike, which affected the 2006 season. In 1979, MLB was able to call up at least a few umpires from the minors after the regular umps walked out. When minor league umps walk out, you’re really down to high school/little league umps and the results often reflected this low level of preparation. Players were often vocal about what they saw (rightly) as egregious errors of judgment and poor knowledge of the rules. The umps tended to give the players a longer leash, but struggled to gain control when all of this simmering discontent bubbled over. Birmingham Barons manager removed his team from the field -thereby forfeiting the game – following brawls, saying that the umpires couldn’t protect his players. Uberprospect Delmon Young’s notorious bat-throwing incident also occurred during this strike.
So this write-up may lead people to conclude that the Angels and Mariners are closer than they are. Let’s leave on a more pessimistic note. Everyone knows the Angels have the far, far superior line-up, but if you remove defense (and the Angels and M’s have essentially equal team defenses), the M’s position players have been worth 110 runs above replacement level. Mike Trout, again removing defense, has been worth 78.3. The Angels position players have been worth 20+ wins more than their Mariner counterparts. The Angels had two players with negative WAR on the season; neither are still with the team, and they combined for under 30 plate appearances. The M’s have given 300 to the combination of Munenori Kawasaki and Chone Figgins.