The subject of this article was chosen by the blog’s followers, who decided that of last week’s top pitchers, C.J. Wilson would be the most interesting subject of a full-length article.
In this week’s poll of our top performers, C.J. Wilson ran away with 71% of the votes, beating out Matt Harvey as our winner. Since Wilson signed his five year, $77.5 million deal prior to the 2012 season, he has been pegged by some as a disappointment. However, he had a very productive season last year with a 3.83 ERA and 173 strikeouts, and is quietly putting up an even better year this season, with a 10-6 record and a 3.15 ERA, which is better than Matt Moore, James Shields, Justin Masterson, and Justin Verlander’s ERAs. Here, we’ll take an inside look into Wilson’s season thus far.
Looking at his season month by month, Wilson has improved dramatically as this season has progressed, and has been dominant so far in July. Granted, he has only had 3 starts so far this month, but those July numbers are phenomenal.
The walk rate decline is likely very important to his great July success. One reason for this is simple: he is throwing more pitches in the strike zone. The percentage of Wilson’s pitches in the zone has increased from 50.2% in April, to 50.3% in May, to 51.5% in June, to 53.7% in July. His fastball in particular was thrown in the strike zone 56.3% of the time in April and 61.5% of the time in July, with a steady increase each month. This has also resulted in his pitches per inning falling from 18.2 in April to 16.0 in July, allowing him to pitch 7.33 innings per start in July compared to just 5.87 innings per start in April.
Looking at his individual pitches, Wilson has seen significant improvement in his fastball month by month. His fastball has had terrific results this month, even though he’s barely getting any swings and misses on it.
Wilson has been able to have success without getting many swings and misses by keeping his fastball away from the middle of the plate this year. He has significantly increased the percentage of fastballs that he is throwing away from hitters, in exchange for ones that he was leaving over the plate.
Moving on from his fastball, Wilson has also seen much greater success as the season has gone on with his breaking pitches (sliders and curveballs).
While we can see clear improvement in his breaking pitches’ results, the whiff rate has remained very similar in each month. The chase rate, however, has improved significantly in each subsequent month. Batters have only 3 hits off Wilson’s breaking balls this month, and they are all singles.
An explanation here, too, relies upon where he is locating the pitches. The percentage of breaking balls that Wilson has left belt high has decreased from 22.2% in April, 17.9% in May, 17.0% in June, and just 12.7% of breaking balls left belt high in July. When Wilson leaves his breaking balls belt high, batters are hitting .270 against it and whiffing on just 3% of swings on the season. In other locations, they hit just .161 against it and whiff on 44% of swings.
Overall, C.J. Wilson is having a great year this season, and is living up to his large contract. His improvement month by month is another positive sign of more great pitching to come. His biggest struggle since he became a full time starting pitcher has always been walks. Walks, or a lack thereof, have been one of the biggest factors in his June and July dominance this year.