C.J. Wilson got his wish by getting a big fat contract to return to Southern California to pitch. But that dream turned into a nightmare by the end of the season. Will everyone's favorite straightedger be able to redeem himself in 2013?
2012 Stats: 202.1 IP, 13-10, 3.83 ERA. 4.04 FIP, 181 H, 91 BB, 19 HR, 173 SO, 1.68 GB/FB, 2.5 fWAR
2013 ZiPS Projections: 193.1 IP, 3.49 ERA. 3.69 FIP, 172 H, 79 BB, 15 HR, 169 SO, 3.6 fWAR
2013 Bill James Projections: 198.0 IP, 13-9, 3.45 ERA. 3.62 FIP, 171 H, 82 BB, 15 HR, 176 SO
2013 CAIRO Projections: 195.0 IP, 14-7, 3.50 ERA. 3.67 FIP, 175 H, 77 BB, 15 HR, 161 SO
2013 MWAH Projections*: 210.0 IP, 16-8, 3.39 ERA. 3.34 FIP, 179 H, 76 BB, 14 HR, 190 SO
*The MWAH projections are simply my best guess based off my own personal opinion and research (my wOBA and FIP calculations are approximate)
2012 in Objective Review:
The Angels did not get the C.J. WIlson they thought they were paying for in 2012. After getting off to a great start, Wilson collapsed in the second half. Struggles with his command and allowing the longball led to talk of Wilson getting pulled from the rotation in August before he managed to pull it together just enough to keep his spot during September and October. It certainly didn't do enough to keep fans from turning against him though as he was subject to a fair amount of negativity due to his poor performance.
It turns out that C.J. was quietly pitching through bone spurs in his pitching elbow. Wilson later admitted that the bone chips caused him to lose range of motion in his elbow, forcing him to try and make adjustments on the mound that clearly didn't work out. He would go one to get the elbow surgically repaired in the off-season, so there is hope that he will bounce back big in 2013.
2012 in Revisionist History:
So, how much do we really blame on his elbow? Everyone likes to point to Wilson registering a 2.43 ERA in the first half of the season, but it seems that may have been misleading. Many were quick to point out that Wilson posted a 3.67 FIP over that span, suggesting that he was the recipient of some very good luck which hid his struggles. For the sake of comparison, consider that C.J. fanned 19.4% and walked 10.8% of batters in the first half but then struck out 20.7% and walked 10.2% in the second half. In other words, he struck out more and walked less in the second half when he was supposedly so much worse than the first half. Now if I told you he had a .242 BABIP in the first half and .326 BABIP in the second half, how would you feel?
Now, that sort of excuses C.J. as having very good luck followed by very bad luck. That was probably a factor, but from an "eye test" standpoint, it was evident that Wilson struggled with consistency and hitting his spots. That's where I think we really need to take C.J. at his word and accept that he really just couldn't feel his pitches by the time the year ended.
The bigger concern is that this was an overall regression year for Wilson. He was tremendous in 2011, but his 2012 season looked a lot more like his 2010 season in which he was good, but not great. The Angels didn't pay for him to be a #3 starter, so they simply have to hope that his struggles were completely and totally related to his arm problems and not because he age was catching up to him. One point in his favor is that C.J. actually gained velocity this season, which is very encouraging since he was pitching hurt. That's not much to hang your hat on, but it'll have to do.
Three Lingering Questions for 2013:
1) Can C.J. come all the way back after having the bone chips removed?
The bad news it that Wilson has had this surgery before. Repeat surgery on your pitching elbow is never a good thing. The good news is that C.J. had one of his best seasons as a reliever after his first surgery, so it certainly didn't hurt him then. Plus, he knows how to handle the recovery for what is ultimately considered to be a relatively inconsequential procedure. Still, one can't help but be concerned about a high-priced 32-year old pitcher needing any kind of surgery on his pitching arm.
2) Should we be worried about how ineffective Wilson was against right-handed batters?
With a 4.41 FIP, sub-7.0 K/9 and .316 wOBA allowed, Wilson had one of his worst seasons against righties. Was that just another symptom of his elbow problems or is the league starting to catch up to him now that he has three full seasons of being a starter under his belt?
3) Will his "unique" personality continue to be tolerated if he struggles again?
Amongst fans, I suspect that answer is an easy, "No." Even before he started to pitch poorly, his act had gotten pretty tired with some. How it is perceived in the clubhouse is much different, but not something we really have insight into. But one has to think that there might be some in the clubhouse wondering what he is doing appearing in video game commercials when he is barely a league average pitcher. Some might question his commitment to returning to form when they see how much time he spent with his racing team in the off-season. These concerns are nothing new to C.J., but not pitching very well is and that could cause the delicate balance between his on-field and off-field personas to tip too far in a bad direction.
Three Irrelevant Questions for 2013:
1) Can someone please explain the zombie-proof SUV he designed?
First off, I need to know if this was just a cheap ploy to capitalize on the zombie craze (probably) or if Wilson is really one of those freaks that is terrified that the zombie apocalypse draws night (like me, which is why I insist I be cremated upon my death). If it is the former, ugh. If it is the latter, then I think C.J. really need to rethink his strategy. Where is the flamethrower? Why is there no cow catcher on the front of the car? He will not be welcome in my bunker if this is the best he can do.
2) How much am I dreading his forthcoming Head & Shoulder commercials?
I know we are supposed to think C.J. is the fun and quirky guy, but has he ever really done anything that was actually funny or at least didn't leave you thinking that he must be insufferable to hang out with?
3) When will Rangers fans stop popping up to say, "Told you so!" every time C.J. does something bad?
Believe it or not, I think it might be this year. Or at least the response might be delayed now that they seem to have their knives out for Hamilton instead.
2013 in Subjective Projection:
I, and apparently all the other projection systems, seem to think that Wilson is going to be just fine in 2012. Given that he has reportedly had no problems in his recovery from elbow surgery is a great sign, assuming that the elbow was the real culprit behind his struggles.
That's something of a moral victory for Wilson. A lot of people, myself included, thought Wilson could put up fantastic numbers in a much more pitcher-friendly environment. Clearly that wasn't the case in 2012. But I'm not blaming the elbow for that. Instead, I think the problem is we all just gave him too much credit for his 2011 campaign. We were treating him like a 24-year old kid who was just going to keep on getting better instead of a guy who was over 30 and past his physical prime. Granted, 2011 was only his second-year as a starter, so there was perceived to be room for growth there. Turns out not so much. There really wasn't any point last season where Wilson had the look of an ace. He always issued too many walks and was too inefficient with his pitches.
Now, that all sounds bad, but it isn't. If you look back at it, Wilson did pretty well considering his command issues and health problems. It was really just that one miserable month of August where his stats took a real beating. If anything, we should applaud him for holding it together as long as he did. Unfortunately, one of his worst hiccups came against Texas in September which left a bad taste in everyone's mouth even though he had actually been pitching relatively well before that.
What I am getting at is that Wilson still has a lot of talent in that arm, so much that he can still be a league average starter while pitching with a bum elbow. If he really does come back at 100% in 2013, then he should slot in like the solid #2 starter that the Angels had hoped he would be.