Setting the record straight on Wilson

While garnering losses in the All-Star game, ALDS, ALCS, and World Series in the same season is certainly a dubious distinction, Vaccaro seems to miss two obvious points. The first point being that a pitcher’s W-L record is ultimately meaningless in the grand scheme of things. I could delve a little deeper into those reasons, but we’ve covered that ad nauseum in this space countless times already. In the interest of keeping this article from digressing too far off course, I’ll leave it at that.

The second, and perhaps most important, issue is that in order to meet this achievement, you have to be a pretty good pitcher. While the fans, managers, and players do an imperfect job when it comes to selecting All-Stars; they tend to mostly select deserving players. Wilson, regardless of how you judge All-Stars, was clearly worthy of his selection having posted a 9-3 record with a 3.20 ERA (if you’re a traditionalist), a 3.43 FIP, and a 117/42 K/BB ratio (if you’re a stats guy) at the break this past July. His brutal one-inning performance in the All-Star game can be chalked up to nothing more than small sample variance. Plenty of good pitchers have put together poor performances during the summer classic, and gone on to be successful pitchers in high stress situations. (See Tom Glavine)

As for Wilson’s post-season performance, it is what it is. I’m not going to draw too many conclusions based on 51 innings in October. Sure, those innings have been less than ideal, but they’re predictive of neither his future performance nor his true talent level. Many pitchers struggle for a stretch in the postseason before eventually putting together an excellent stretch of starts. A great example of this is C.C. Sabathia.

After two unsuccessful postseason ventures in 2007 and 2008, Sabathia was widely considered to be a playoff “choker.” Despite his poor previous track record, he still managed to parlay that unfavorable (and undeserved) reputation into the largest contract ever handed out to a pitcher. Furthermore, upon reaching the postseason in 2009, he carried the Yankee rotation to a championship on the strength of a 2.52 ERA in 35-2/3 innings; thus changing his reputation in the process. While I won’t go as far as saying Wilson will make the same transition as Sabathia did a few years ago, it’s certainly a possibility. When you’re dealing with a short series sample, a couple bad bounces or an unfavorable wind pattern can be the difference between being a hero or a goat.

Wilson’s an immensely talented pitcher who’s produced a 3.54 FIP and a 10.5 fWAR in value over the past two seasons, while playing in one of the most hostile pitching environments in the league. While those numbers aren’t necessarily predictive of his future performance, they establish a credible performance baseline from which we can determine reasonable expectations. Though I understand the concerns regarding his age and his unusual career path, his skill set indicates he should be a 3-4 win pitcher on average over the life of a five year deal. He has a very healthy 21% career strikeout rate as a starter; has improved his command dramatically; and keeps the ball on the ground. These things aren’t likely to change upon moving to another environment; including one that potentially carries additional scrutiny. Provided he neither sustains a major injury nor experiences an unexpected decline in performance, he should be a solid acquisition for whomever decides to sign him.

In conclusion, while Mike Vaccaro chooses to ignore the facts by focusing on a small sample of innings in an effort to create a narrative, I’ll focus on the 427-1/3 innings he’s hurled as a starter over the past two seasons. They’re far more meaningful, and chances are; I won’t need to resort to hyperbole to strengthen a weak argument.

12 thoughts on “Setting the record straight on Wilson

  1. WAR uses park adjusted FIP… or, you know accounts for these things with magic n such. That said, without real evidence, I think the yankees don't develop pitchers because they end up sign / trade for 'proven' pitching. I don't think they end up signing overpriced / burdensome contracts and trade prospects away before they see what they ever get at AA and up because they can't develop pitchers, as everyone claims.

    Even this year, the yankees were close to getting away with using entirely aging veterans that are (or will be) signed into their late 30's, or already are. It worked out, because of Jon Sterling. But with the need for one less pitcher, it's possible they never see what they had in Nova. They also didn't see what they really had with their other older starting prospects with ample opportunity throughout the season. I'm glad Garcia and Colon worked out and were also really cheap, but they aren't part of any future Yankee teams. It just seems like a perpetual cycle of mismanaging resources.

    Sure Nova is no ace, and his ERA outperformed his FIP, maybe the true talent level. But he's a safe bet for 200IP of average to possibly above average pitching. 500k/ year. 5 more years.

  2. Michael, I don't think the writer is saying the Yankees should scuttle their young talent. The point he is making is against writers that use small sample size events to gloss over the value of players over the long run.

    The writer doesn't even state categorically that the Yankees should sign Wilson. At least, I didn't see such a reference unless it's implied. It's simply pointing out that Wilson should be painted by his body of work and not his work in this post season or the All Star Game.

    • Thank you William. That's exactly what I'm saying. This idea that a few poor starts in October overshadowing two years worth of All-Star quality work is a joke. On the subject of signing him, I'm not entirely convinced the Yankees. He's an incredibly talented pitcher, but there are certainly concerns that give me reasons to tread carefully. Despite his production, he's likely to be grossly overpaid this winter. While I do think the Yankees should consider him as an option going forward. They should be involved in negotiations, at the very least, in case the Red Sox decide to jump into the Wilson pool; in hopes of driving up the price.

      I don't think think the Yankees should trade away or minimize their young starters. I think Banuelos and Betances, in particular, have a ton of potential. Granted, they have a lot to work on given their poor control, but they're both young and have tremendous upside. They need to spend at least 50-75% of 2012 in AAA learning to how to pitch to more advanced hitters.

      • Chip: My quip was misdirected, in the sense that it's about the general philosophy of finding pitchers, and your post is about how Wilson's evaluation (and contract) should be influenced by the past few starts he's had since the calendar flipped.

        I agree with your post. It's all silly, and it's easy to find several post season reputations that reverse themselves (Jeter, Rivera, Arod..)

        My basic point is that long term contracts, 5 years or greater, especially with pitchers end up hurting the team more than not, even if it seems like the team is equipped to pay out millions to roster spots that don't give the team any production. Yet, the viewpoint by many people is that the Yankees are obliged to sign CC or Wilson (or both?) in order to contend.

        I'll be sure to comment about this as the free agent frenzy starts up soon.

  3. To paraphrase Bill Parcells, you are what your record says you are. The Yankees need pitchers who can win in October. Postseason numbers will always represent small sample sizes. The question is do you want to pay close to $100M for a guy with this kind of record? Would you give a hitter like Nick Swisher a $50M deal right now based on his excellent regular season results but inept postseason numbers? There's another pitcher with good numbers in both the regular and postseason who's out there as a free agent. That would be Roy Oswalt. He would come a lot cheaper that Wilson.

    • @Kurt – The Yankees paid 7 year $161M for CC Sabathia who was 2-3 with a 7.92 ERA in 25 innings. Are you sure you really want to make that argument? He was great in 2009, and then mediocre in 2010 and 2011. Josh Beckett was tremendous in 2003 and 2007, and then "meh" in 2008 and 2009. Barry Bonds was a postseason goat his entire career until he single-handedly brought the Giants within one win of the World Series in 2002. You can talk all you want about past postseason success, but it doesn't make it predictive for the future.

      I wouldn't pay Wilson $100M period. Good postseason record or not. I think he's a very good pitcher who will likely be overpaid. I'm merely arguing that it's ridiculous to assume that his value would drop because of a few starts in October. If you're a GM and you're making judgments like that, you're probably not very good at your job. It's like judging someone based on their April stats. That said, Oswalt is a very attractive option for his talent and potential contract–not because of his past success in the playoffs.

    • Also, as for your Bill Parells comment–John Lackey was 12-12 despite an ERA near 6.50. Do you really want to tell me he was an average pitcher? As for Swisher, I wouldn't give him a $50M contract because that would imply he's worthy of a four year deal. Given his age and skill set, it'd probably be best to give him a 2-3 year deal worth $10-12M per.