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.

  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.