Adam Wilk got his chance at the Tigers starting rotation earlier this year with Doug Fister on the shelf – the results weren’t so much forgettable as embarrassing. 3 starts, 3 losses. A total of 11 innings pitched in which he walked 4 (a lot for him) and gave up 21 hits – including 4 home runs. The Tigers pulled the plug and gave a few starts to equally-ill-prepared Casey Crosby and Jacob Turner, who fared little better despite their nastier stuff.
Since then Wilk has been back in Toledo plugging away with little fanfare and little (big league) fan interest. Nobody wonders out loud whether Wilk ought to be starting instead of Anibal Sanchez’ BP sessions or whether Wilk might get the call when rosters expand (though he very well might). Did you even know that Wilk has a 2.86 ERA in 22 starts? Probably not. But he does.
After a statistically impressive age-23 season in Toledo – and the mediocrity of his brief call ups in 2011 and early 2012 – impressions of Adam Wilk seem to have more or less crystallized. Wilk has mediocre stuff but knows how to throw strikes. He throws too many hittable pitches over the plate – if guys are good enough to make him pay, he is going to get clobbered. In truth we should have seen a major regression from Wilk’s great 2010 at Lakeland & Erie when he was promoted all the way to Toledo for 2011 – AAA hitters may be less patient, but they’re a lot better at mashing garbage than high-A guys are. In a sense, we did: Wilk’s ERA rose from 2.74 to 3.24 as his hits per 9 rose from 8 to 9.2 and his home runs per 9 rose from 0.5 to 1.3. So we’ve all basically written Wilk off at this point as a guy who – whatever other positive qualities he might have – does not have the stuff to get good hitters out.
Maybe it’s time to revisit that assumption… It isn’t just that Wilk is continuing to pitch well against minor league hitters. You would have expected that. It’s the fact that Wilk seems to be improving down there and he’s improving in the direction that we want. We want Wilk to throw fewer easy-to-hit pitches. That should make his hits and homers drop while his walks rise and the net impact should be positive as far as ERA is concerned. His walks per 9 are up – from 1.3 per 9 in 2011 to 1.6 per 9 in 2012. His hits are way down – from 9.2 per 9 in 2011 to 7.5 per 9 this season – as are his homers per 9 – from 1.3 to 0.8. Meanwhile his strikeout rate continues to climb. He won organizational pitcher of the month in July and hasn’t allowed more than 3 earned in a start in months.
If Doug Fister is forced to miss a start or two, I’m not sure that Wilk isn’t the guy I’d call up for that spot start. Smyly is down there too – but has not had the kind of success at keeping minor league hitters off the basepaths that you would like to see. Crosby has had a couple of good starts – but a guy with his control problems may have more to prove than even Wilk. If Fister doesn’t miss time – I’m not in favor of pulling Sanchez out of the rotation, however tonight’s start goes. But… when rosters expand, Wilk is one of a handful of guys that could pad bullpen depth in a meaningful way for the month of September. If his 2012 hasn’t earned him at least that, I think it will be time to put him on the block come November.