Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Scouting C.J. Wilson for Game 2

If the Giants had decided to put Sanchez in the number two spot in the rotation again, we’d have probably been in for a long night against the Texas Rangers in game 2. That’s because, much like Jonathan Sanchez, the Rangers’ game two starter, C.J. Wilson, walks a lot of batters – he led the AL with 93 walks, Sanchez led the NL with 97 – and thus he is constantly pitching behind hitters. Wilson does do a nice job of striking out hitters, but not nearly at the same clip that Sanchez does. He struck out 7.5 per 9 innings in 2010 but walked 4.1 per 9 as well, so his 1.83 K/BB ratio isn’t anything special. What was very impressive, however, was his ability to avoid giving up the long ball. Despite pitching at least half his games in the live park in Arlington, Wilson gave up just 10 HR over 204 innings, a rate of .44 per 9 innings, and not a single one to a left-handed hitter. He did this with a ground ball rate of over 49% and only 5.3% of the fly balls hit off of him went over the fence. Perhaps more remarkable is the fact that this is C.J.’s first season as a full time starter as he’d spent the past four season in the bullpen. This is a huge obstacle for the Giants, as their most reliable source of runs, their modus operandi, is the long ball.

Wilson finished the season with a 15-8 record and a 3.35 ERA. His Fielding Independent Pitching metric was 3.56, so perhaps the .271 average he allowed on balls in play was a bit over his head. Another metric that is commonly used is xFIP. xFIP is a lot like FIP – the metric developed by Tom Tango to show how well a pitcher controlled those factors for which he is most responsible, i.e. walks, strikeouts and homeruns – but it differs in one key area. xFIP (Expected Fielding Independent Pitching) adjusts FIP by normalizing the home run component. Meaning, if a pitcher is allowing fly balls to go out of the park at an abnormally low rate, the xFIP will bare that out by assuming home runs are a function of frequency of fly balls and home ball park. Home ball park, of course, because right field in Yankee Stadium is very homer prone, while right field in San Francisco: not so much. Anyway, Wilson’s xFIP jumps all the way to 4.20, perhaps predicting that his future ERA and FIP will be higher than that of this season; time will have to tell.

Wilson is a lot like his lefty rotation mate, Cliff Lee, in that he throws all of a fastball, cutter, slider, changeup and curveball. When he was in the bullpen throughout the past four seasons, he threw his fastball 74, 77, 80 and 70% of the time. After moving into the rotation in 2010, he threw it only 49.2% of the time, more typical of a starter. His heater averages 90.5 MPH velocity, mixing in both a two-seamer and four-seamer. He will throw his cutter 18.6% of the time at 87.8 MPH average velocity. He uses this pitch second most often when behind in the count, and is very comfortable throwing it for a strike out of his specialty pitches. When behind in the count if he’s not throwing the heater, it’s most often a cutter. His next most often used pitch is the slider. The slider (82.6 MPH) is C.J.’s put away pitch. He tries to use it when ahead in the count, especially with two strikes to put hitters away with a strikeout. He’ll throw the changeup 11.7% of the time at 82.1 on average. He uses it much more often when behind in the count as opposed to ahead in the count. In fact, he uses it least often when he has two strikes on a hitter, so I’d submit that he isn’t comfortable with it as a swing and miss pitch. Finally, he also mixes in a 75.3 MPH curveball at a clip of 8.5% of the time. He will throw it as a strikeout pitch as well as to steal a strike 0-0 (10% of time). However, he doesn’t have a great deal of confidence with it when he really needs a strike considering in 2-0, 3-0, 2-1 and 3-1 counts he tosses it 1% of the time at most.

Wilson really neutralizes lefties, so it’s a bit perplexing that he was used in Game 2 versus game 3. AT&T already does a great job at keeping left handed power at bay, and given Wilson’s effectiveness against them, it might have been prudent to utilize his unique skill set to combat the much liver Ballpark in Arlington. Lefties struck out 9.07/ 9 IP against him with just 2.36 per 9 (ratio of 3.83). They also, as I said earlier, never took him deep. Average wise, lefties hit a paltry .146. It’s a good thing that Huff is pretty confident against lefties and doesn’t try to do too much. It’s also comforting that unlike Lee, Wilson isn’t nearly as troubling versus right handed hitters, though he’s no slouch – and that’s something the Giants have in abundance.

Also worth noting, I read that C.J. Wilson was mashing line drives all over AT&T during batting practice. Perhaps he’s the Giants’ version of Madison Bumgarner, and perhaps that’s one reason why Wash decided to go with him for Game 2.

Stats provided by Fangraphs

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