So far the 2010 season has been deservingly dubbed as the Year of the Pitcher by many. With 3 no hitters and 3 2 perfect games ‑sorry Armando-, the debuts of Mike Leake, Stephen Strasburg, and Jeremy Hellickson, as well as several players stepping up to become club aces (Clay Buchholz, David Price, Trevor Cahill, Matt Latos, etc) it is understandable that many pitchers have not gotten their dues. One of the many good pitchers and stories of the year is C.J Wilson of the Texas Rangers.
Until this season, to non-Rangers fans, C.J Wilson was likely known just as much for his Taoist and straightedge lifestyle and his vibrant red and blue gloves –you just can’t wear a brown glove with a red or blue alternate jersey-, as he was for his pitching. Despite being outspoken over the past several years about returning to the rotation –where he started his career- it was not until this year that at 29 he was given another chance. In spring training he forced his way into the starting five, and has since worked hard to erase fans’ memories of 5 up and down years in the bullpen.
With just more than a month to play, Wilson has far exceeded pre-season expectations. His record stands at 13-5, (a team record of 20-6 in his starts), and an ERA of 3.02. Using a well developed arsenal of fastballs, cutters, sliders, and change-ups, not mention his alleged ‘gyroball’, Wilson has been baffling batters the entire season. His batting average against sits at a paltry .210 against him, good enough for a tie for 4th amongst all qualified pitchers in the Major Leagues. Even more impressive is his absolute dominance of lefties, who are batting a sickly .127 against Wilson this year.
Making his statistics more impressive is his having pitched 16 times already in the very hitter friendly Ballpark at Arlington (ERA of 3.11), which has inflated the ERA of more than one pitcher throughout its history. Wilson’s success is interesting given his strikeout rate of 7.35/9 innings and his propensity for walks (leads the American League). As dominant as he is against lefties, he has fared only average against right handed hitters. With a BABIP of .290 against righties, he still has work to do before he can be considered a dominant pitcher. If he can develop more control on his off-speed pitches to allow greater success against right-handed hitters, he has the potential to be one of the better pitchers in the American League. Playing for the Rangers who have one of the more volatile offenses in the league, and pitching against the small-ball playing AL West, the cards favor Wilson to continue his success for the remainder of the year and beyond. Furthering his odds are the strong reliever corps to whom Wilson can confidently hand over the ball to. Given he has already pitched 164 innings -more than double last year’s total of 73- his durability is not an issue now or going forward.
With Lee’s struggles, Harden’s inefficiency, Feldman’s inconsistency, and multiple injuries across the board, Wilson’s emergence as a more than effective starter has been a godsend to a team that seemed to be doomed by its rotation. Ignoring the rental of the struggling Lee, I do not think it is a stretch to say that Texas has found itself a new sheriff.
Although he was an absolute bargain in all fantasy formats this year, ranked 338th by Yahoo, I do not anticipate that this will be the case next year. Wilson will definitely move up the draftboard and will still likely still be a good value wherever he eventually lands. With another offseason to improve the command of his repertoire, he has nowhere to go but up. Expect Wilson to be a 15+ game winner for the next several years and to continue to be one of the strong points of what I believe to be the new powerhouse in the AL West.