Game 25, Angels at Mariners
Aaron Harang vs. CJ Wilson, 7:10pm
Let’s be clear: CJ Wilson isn’t a bad pitcher; he’d look great in the M’s rotation. That said, he’s pretty clearly not the guy the Angels thought they signed (for $77.5m over five years). By RA9, he was worth over 5 WAR per year in his two seasons as a starter for Texas. By FIP, he averaged just shy of 5 WAR per year. By any measure, he was a great starter, and while he posted those two great seasons in somewhat different ways, he appeared to be growing and developing – perhaps into a true ace. His best attribute was keeping the ball in the ballpark; he gave up a freakishly low number of HRs in 2010 (especially considering his home park), and while that figure rose in 2011, it was still better than average. So, remove him from the HR-aiding Ballpark in Arlington and plunk him down in one of the league’s most underrated pitcher’s parks, a park that suppresses HRs, and you’d pencil him in for 3-6 WAR, conservatively, right?
Instead, Wilson was merely so-so, thanks to a home run rate that looked like the league average, not Wilson’s career average. Strikeouts were down, contact up, walk rate back up where it had been in 2010. As a 5-6 win pitcher in 2011, he had a long way to fall while remaining good, and he used nearly that entire cushion. A 2+ WAR season is nothing to be ashamed of, and given that he made only $10m in the first year of his contract, it was arguably a bargain. But as I discussed last year, Wilson’s in for a series of pretty big raises beginning next season.* At this point, it’s become more clear that his very different peripheral stats may not have been the sign of development, they were just the product of higher-than-normal volatility.
Every pitcher is volatile, of course, and it’s magnified in Wilson’s case because he was a good reliever, then a crappy one, then a good one again at the beginning of his career. But the Angels can’t be too happy that his walk rate, which had improved dramatically in 2011, became a problem again in 2012 and has been even worse through four starts this year. His strikeout rate fell back to its 2010 level last year, but it’s fallen well past that this season, even as the league-average figure has climbed (he’s faced only four teams, of course, but the teams he’s faced run the gamut from the high-K% Astros to the contact-happy Tigers). The HR rate is still concerning, and batters stubbornly refuse to chase pitches (he has an absurdly low swing% overall). Add in long-standing platoon splits, and I’d be nervous about paying him $20m in a few years time.**
Ok, so that’s the (mostly pessimistic) context. The good signs, for Angels/Wilson fans, are that his velocity is essentially right where it was in 2012, when his FB velo average hit a career high. And he’s still able to mix six pitches – two fastballs, a cutter, a slider, a curve and a change. His slider/cutter combo has been effective for years, and seems to be just as good now. His fastball seems like a real problem, despite its 92-mph-ness. He had good (read: few homers allowed) results with the four-seamer in 2010, and while it regressed a bit in 2011, it was still a good pitch, as he notched more K’s with it than walks and HRs, despite using it more often when behind in the count. That changed last year, as his ISO rose and his strikeouts dropped. So far this year, it’s more of the same, with a continued increase in his ISO and drop in K’s (tiny sample alert, of course). The M’s need to be patient and get themselves into good counts. No one – not even the Astros – went chasing too many of his pitches out of the zone, so the M’s need to be disciplined enough to avoid that too.
The M’s start Aaron Harang, who was just terrible in his last start. Just awful. C’mon M’s: let’s talk about another good night from Kyle Seager so we don’t have to focus on Harang’s HRs-allowed.
1: Jason Bay, !
2: Seager, 3B
3: Morales, DH
4: Morse, RF
5: Smoak, 1B
6: Shoppach, C
7: Andino, 2B
8: Chavez, CF
9: Ryan, SS
Jason Bay is leading off a big league game in 2013. Huh.
The Day of Pitching Prospects last night went fairly well, with Victor Sanchez overcoming a rough 1st inning (and a dropped fly ball behind him) to cruise through six solid innings. Taijuan Walker worked out of a couple of jams early and similarly fell into a groove in a great start for AA Jackson, easily outpitching Zach Lee (though you could nitpick about the four walks). Unfortunately, the AAA prospect match-up between Danny Hultzen and Zack Wheeler didn’t happen, as Hultzen was scratched after not being able to get loose. Mike Zunino didn’t find Wheeler to his liking, as he started 0-4 with 4Ks, but the R’s came back from a 7-1 deficit, and a 10-6 gap in the 9th to win a classic PCL pitcher’s duel, 13-12. The Rainiers made five errors. On the positive side, Nick Franklin is nearly as hot in AAA as Kyle Seager is in MLB, going 5-5 last night with two doubles, and a single that slammed off the wall in right.
Today, Tyler Pike pitches for Clinton, and sinkerballer Brett Shankin makes his second start for Jackson. Andrew Carraway get the ball for Tacoma in their second game in Las Vegas.
* It’s not just Wilson, of course. The Angels back-loaded many of their free agent deals. They have five players under contract right now for the 2016 season, and they owe those five players *$107 million.* The M’s have one player under contract for 2016, and he is just the dreamiest dreamboat that ever sailed. This is certainly manageable in the era of the irrationally exuberant TV contract, but it’d be even more manageable with an influx of cost-controlled players to replace the current group who’ll hit arbitration when the big free agent bills start coming due. Unfortunately, the Angels prospect cupboard is freakishly bare right now, with #1 prospect Kaleb Cowart off to a slow start in AA, and #2 prospect LHP Nick Maronde getting a rude welcome to the big leagues last night courtesy of Kyle Seager. Their willingness to spend, and their good fortune/good work developing a Mantle-like talent in Mike Trout make all of these challenges concerning, and not insurmountable. The Angels have been in similar positions before, and they always seem to figure out a way to grind out 85-93 wins, but I’ll admit to a few grins when I look at Wilson/Hamilton/Pujols production and what they’re owed.
** Of course, before I *got* to that, I’d be looking at the fact I owed Vernon Wells nearly $19m next season, even after the offsetting payment from the Yankees.