Well, I am nothing if not a man of the people, so I am here to defend the honor of the Angels’ very expensive lefty.
In reality, I am a Wilson apologist, a three-year owner of the converted reliever and a believer in his apparently magical abilities to outperform his FIP on a regular basis (or at least for 2.5 years as a SP). Earlier this year, in my 10 Bold Predictions article, I claimed that Wilson would be the ace of the Angels three-headed-pitching-monster, and he has done nothing to disappoint.
But, as Jeff rightly points out, many of the underlying numbers just don’t support the success Wilson has had in the stats that count in your fantasy league. The K/BB ratio is not good, mostly due to a high walk rate, and he has had some good fortune on balls in play. Wilson’s FIP is more than a run higher than his ERA.
But there is also a lot to like. The walk rate is high but 7.1 K/9 IP, while not great, is certainly plenty to make for a successful pitcher, particularly when paired with a 51.6% GB rate. And that ground ball rate helps to eliminate a number of those walks (or singles). Wilson has induced 16 ground ball double plays this year, tied for fourth in the AL. Wilson is no stranger to the double play, as he brought on 31 in 2011, leading all pitchers. He was 12th in the AL in 2010, his first year as a starter, with 21.
Part of this is because Wilson has always had good infield defense behind him – but who cares? He gets to keep that good infield defense, at least for the next few months. Besides, it isn’t all defense. With men on base, Wilson’s K% increases, his BB% decreases, and his GB% goes up while his FB% goes down.
In addition to erasing base runners through double plays, Wilson has the 11th best CS% of any pitcher in the AL. Once again, he is likely benefiting from his team – he ranked outside the top 20 in 2010 and 2011, while Dan Haren and Jered Weaver are both in the top 20 this year (Weaver is #2), but, as with the infield defense, this support isn’t going away.
As Jeff pointed out, Wilson is likely to see some inflation on his .242 BABIP, but maybe not as much as you’d expect, as low BABIP has been part of his calling card since leaving the pen. But the ground balls come into play here, too. Sure, more of those ground balls should find holes instead of gloves in the second half, but most of those will turn into singles, not extra base hits, and if he keeps inducing those ground ball double plays, he can limit the damage of those additional hits.
Most importantly, Wilson avoids the bane of any pitcher (particularly pitchers who give up a lot of walks) and keeps his HR allowed way down. He has the 4th best HR/9 among AL SP, and again, this is nothing new to Wilson, as he was 6th in the AL last year, despite playing his home games in a well-known launching pad. He has the 10th best FB rate in the AL, and the 4th best HR/FB – if you don’t give up fly balls and those fly balls aren’t clearing the walls, you are going to see a lot of success as a pitcher. And nether his FB% nor his HR/FB varies greatly from his past numbers.
So does this all mean Jeff is just plain wrong? Well, probably not. Wilson HAS had good luck this year, and he likely will fall off. But from where he stands today, he can fall a decent ways without becoming a bum.
Wilson has shown over a three year period that he can consistently outperform his FIP. It could be luck or it could be something we are not measuring well – something like the impact of double plays or the ability to limit HR. Jeff painted a picture of a pitcher who didn’t strikeout enough guys to make up for his walks, who has benefited from a low BABIP and a high LOB%, and who may have even received some friendly scoring at home. I am painting a picture of a guy who limits the damage of his walks by avoiding HR and inducing double plays, who can absorb a bump in BABIP, and who has a track record of success that the statistically-minded crowd can’t always explain.
You can feel free to agree with either of us. In fact, I encourage any Wilson owner in a league with me to re-read Jeff’s article and then let me know the price to take Wilson off your hands.
Chad Young is a product manager at Amazon by day and a baseball writer (RotoGraphs, Let's Go Tribe), sports fan and digital enthusiast at all times. Follow him on Twitter @chadyoung.