Hey, guess what? One of Jerry Dipoto's big free agent signings actually didn't suck in 2013! Yeah, I know, I couldn't believe it either. But, sure enough, C.J. Wilson was actually quite good in last year. Is it possible that things could actually continue to work out for him this year, too? Dare we dream?
*The MWAH projections are simply my best guess based off my own personal opinion and research (my wOBA calculation is approximate because my math skills are only "meh")
What happened in 2013?
There was a bit of concern around Wilson entering 2013. He struggled in the second half of 2012 and subsequently had to have some bone chips removed from his elbow in the offseason. He'd had the procedure earlier in his career and been fine, but with the way things had been going for the Angels, there was an understandable amount of skepticism that he'd bounce all the way back.
It turns out we got all worked up over nothing. Wilson ended up being just fine. He threw 212.1 innings and finished the year with a 3.39 ERA. Those numbers weren't quite as good as his 2011 campaign in Texas, but still right around the performance level that the Halos were expecting when they signed him. Truth be told, the Angels rotation would've been an even bigger disaster than it already was if he hadn't pitched so well.
What do the projections think he will do in 2014?
Almost all of the systems think that Wilson will be basically as good as he was in 2013. The only one that disagreed was Steamer. Steamer thinks that Wilson is going to suck. Seriously, what'd C.J. Wilson ever do to you Steamer?
Steamer's main issue appears to be that Wilson is going to be somewhat more hittable than in seasons past. Why? I don't really know but I'd guess it has something to do with Wilson turning 33 during the offseason. It sucks to get older, I guess. I imagine another factor would be that David Freese is a defensive downgrade at third base, which is a bit of an issue considering that Wilson is a groundball pitcher that faces mostly right-handers since he murders left-handed hitting.
What I find encouraging about all of the systems is that they agree that Wilson will be able to keep cutting into his walk rate. Walks really hurt C.J. in 2012 and he recovered somewhat in 2013. The projection systems still think he has room for improvement there. On the other hand, C.J. is forecasted to be slightly less luck with the longball.
Does the Monkey agree or disagree?
Everything looks about right to me. I'm even on board with his walk rate getting better. In fact, I think most of his peripherals are going to get better. Yet for some reason I have his ERA going up by a good chunk. Why? Part of it is just bad luck but I think a bigger issues is that C.J. just could not seem to avoid those innings in each game where he just completely loses the strike zone and falls apart for six batters. Wilson just fights himself too much. For a guy that preaches Positive Mental Attitude, he sure spends a lot of time on the mound muttering to himself. That just rubs me the wrong way.
I fully realize those aren't great reasons and have very little statistical backing. But my final reason actually is backed up. One thing Wilson has benefited from the last two seasons is bad defense. Yes, you read that right. Wilson gave up 13 unearned runs last season and 16 in each year before that. That comes with being a groundball pitcher, but all those extra unearned runs last year came with Wilson playing in front of a bad infield defense.
Wilson spent a lot of last season playing with Brendan Harris at short, Albert Pujols being unable to move at first base and Howie Kendrick having an off year at second. This year, the defense should be better. That should lead to fewer runs overall, but I think it will also lead to some of those unearned runs turning into earned runs. I'll be honest, I'm not sure if the math adds up on that, but it makes sense in my head and that is all that counts, right?
What are the known unknowns?
The only real concern with Wilson is his health. He has no actual active health issues, but he did turn 33 and has thrown 200+ innings four years running. Even with the mileage he saved by spending the first half of his career as a reliever, that is a workload that is going to start adding up sooner or later. Wilson is a great athlete and appears to be in top shape, so there are few red flags outside of his age, so this isn't a big concern.
The one possible red flag is that Wilson lost half a mile per hour on his average fastball velocity last year. But that is something of a false alarm because even with that dip, he still threw harder than he did in 2010 and 2011. That suggests Wilson can still lose another half a mile per hour of velocity and still be pretty effective. That's great news for the Angels because it strongly suggests that Wilson is a safe bet to be a three to four win pitcher. That's pretty valuable in a rotation that is otherwise laden with risk.