C.J. Wilson Just Saw His Draft Cost Drop

A week ago I analyzed David Freese’s big postseason and speculated that it would inflate his cost in 2012 drafts. C.J. Wilson, on the other hand, has likely seen his 2012 draft cost move in the opposite direction. Yesterday, Chris Cwik analyzed Wilson’s playoff struggles from a free-agent market standpoint, and today I will examine the impact it may have in fantasy leagues.

In 2010, C.J. Wilson opened the year as a starting pitcher after having never started a game since 2006. It was a bold move for sure, but it ended up working out as he posted a surprising 3.35 ERA. Of course, the luck fairies were not too far behind, helping him out along the way with a sprinkling of a .266 BABIP and 5.3% HR/FB ratio. Despite the impressive surface ERA, his SIERA and xFIP were both above 4.00. Given the huge increase in innings from 2009-2010 and the apparent good fortune Wilson benefited from, he seemed to be one of the easiest bust candidates to identify.

Then 2011 rolled around and Wilson made us stat-mongers look rather foolish. He upped his K%, improved his BB%, continued racking up the ground balls, and saw his SIERA and xFIP drop significantly. The issue now is whether his improved K% and BB% are real. His SwStk%, although better than 2010, is actually below the league average, suggesting a decline in K/9 is coming. His F-Strike% was also below the league average, hinting that his BB/9 is going to creep up above 3.0 again next season.

Now that we have some idea of what this season might lead to for a 2012 projection, it’s finally time to talk about the elephant in the room. As we all know, his 2012 postseason has been just atrocious. Forget about the six home runs allowed in just 26.2 innings for a moment. Most of his other metrics are fairly normal, so the homers are just a small sample size and meaningless fluke. The biggest concern I believe is his 19 walks in those innings. Including the playoffs these past two seasons, Wilson has now thrown a whopping 478.1 innings. During his five previous seasons, he had only pitched 426.0 innings! Isn’t it at all possible that we are witnessing the first signs of burnout? A pitcher tiring from a heavy workload after having been a reliever exclusively since 2006?

For some draft cost context, in 2010, during his first season as a starting pitcher, he went in the reserve round of my standard 12-team mixed auction draft league. A surprisingly strong campaign that year pushed him into the auction portion of the draft in 2011, where he was won for $5. According to Zach Sanders’ end of season player valuation calculator, Wilson actually earned about $19, yielding an excellent return on the lucky owner’s investment. Though I highly doubt anyone in my league would have been ready to pay that much for him in our 2012 draft even if his playoff collapse hadn’t happened, I think the performance will help move his cost into the low teen range. Now I am not one to put much weight at all on small sample sizes, but given Wilson’s unique situation, I would be quite afraid to draft him next year, even at a possible depressed price.

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Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

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JR Ewing
JR Ewing

From someone that watches CJ pitch fairly often, there was a huge change in how he pitches that started in late 2010 and was successfully implemented in 2011. The Cliff Lee influence had him knock of 3-4 MPH off his fastball and work on pegging the low part of the strike zone, working in and out. He could then use his secondary pitches either as chase pitches down and out of the zone or to change the level and try to drop into the top of the zone. Admittedly I haven’t looked at any of the charts to back this up, but this seemed to be his new strategy and got him to stop nibbling on the corners and giving too many free passes.

I didn’t draft CJ in any of my fantasy leagues this year, fearing the huge amount of additional innings he threw in 2010 and dead-arm issues. I think I was proven wrong. While I agree with you on the K/9 declining maybe back around the 7.5 or so he had in 2010, I think the BB/9 should hold around 3 like it was in 2011. I see him continuing to be a low-3s ERA with 200k’s and a decent WHIP.

Watching him work in the postseason, you have to understand this isn’t the pitcher he’s been over the last two full seasons. He absolutely cannot throw his breaking pitches for strikes and has even wildly missed the glove with fastballs rather often. Knowing CJ is a guy big on routines maybe the extra rest between series and short rest during series has hurt him? Maybe the 250 innings has been too much? He normally seems to rise to the challenge in big games, so I don’t think it is pressure that you can blame this on. Whatever it is unless there is an injury that lingers or he has dead arm or velocity issues in the spring I’d consider him a nice $12-$14 buy next year. He may not have quite the offense (or defense) behind him if he’s not back in Texas, but then again he likely won’t be pitching in such a hitters park either. He is squarely in my list of mid-range pitchers that I focus on each year in redraft/auction leagues.