There’s much debate over whether Wilson is a “true ace” or not, but the bottom line is that he’s been the number one pitcher on the two-time defending American League champions for the majority of the past two seasons (excepting Cliff Lee‘s brief time in Arlington). This season the Rangers were third in the A.L. in FIP by starting pitchers, despite playing in a very hitter friendly ballpark. And Wilson was no slouch either, with an ERA/FIP/xFIP line of 2.94/3.24/3.41 in 223.1 innings pitched, backed up by a K/9 of 8.3 and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 2.83. In other words, he had a really good year.
On the other hand, this is just Wilson’s second season as a starter, and as the local media has become all too happy to point out, he hasn’t been at his best in the postseason. Including both 2010 and 2011, Wilson has a 1-5 record with a 5.32 ERA over 45.2 innings in October. Of course, small sample caveats apply and all that, but other than sheer randomness I don’t really have an explanation for it. I had wondered if maybe Wilson wasn’t showing fatigue, given that he was a new starter and all, but his numbers this September were quite good, so I don’t know that there’s any evidence for that. Nor do I necessarily think it’s the case that he’s struggling with better offenses. The Rays knocked him around in Game 1 of this year’s ALDS, and they had a basically league average offense. Of course, randomness is a perfectly fine explanation, so we’ll just stick with that. Especially since he wasn’t actually that bad in 2010, once you account for the fact that Ron Washington probably left him in an inning too long in Game 1 of the ALCS.
The biggest knock I can see against Wilson is that it’s just so hard to predict how he’ll pitch going forward, given that he has such a short track record as a starter. And while his 2011 was fantastic, his 2010 was merely good. Not bad by any means, but he walked a full batter more per nine innings than he did in 2011 while striking out nearly a full batter less. On the other hand, his home run rate was actually a little lower, so he still had a very solid 3.56 FIP in 204 innings. And as others have noted, the fact that he’s a recently converted starter means that he has less mileage on his arm than your average free agent.
Ultimately the biggest question about Wilson is going to be what the market for him looks like, and how much money he’ll command. Though early reports have talked down the level of interest in Wilson, I wouldn’t be surprised to see figures pushing $100 million once free agency actually opens. That’s probably a litte much for the Yankees, given the current state of the roster, but if the numbers stay in the $80-90 million range, I can see the Yankees making a big run at Wilson. I’m not sure how I feel about that yet, though I freely admit that my judgment is being clouded by the fact that Cole Hamels is the left-handed starter I truly covet. There’s no guarantee he makes it to free agency though, so if the Yankees can work out a deal on the level of 5 years for $80-90 million, that would probably represent a very good deal for them.