Alex Wilson is competing for a spot in the starting rotation in spring training. But he provides a better option pitching in relief.
Alex Wilson thinks he can make the transition to the starting rotation But, by most accounts, the starting rotation is currently Michael Fulmer, Jordan Zimmermann, Mike Fiers, Daniel Norris and Matt Boyd. The Tigers also have minor league pitchers Buck Farmer and Ryan Carpenter sitting in Toledo for good measure.
Despite this, Alex Wilson still approached the club in the offseason and asked for the opportunity to compete for a place in the starting rotation.
Wilson, who is 31, was drafted by the Red Sox in the second round of the 2009 MLB draft. He came up through the Red Sox farm system as a starting pitcher. He debuted in 2013 when John Lackey was sent to the DL. Wilson was sent to the Detroit Tigers via the trade that sent Yoenis Cespedes and Rick Porcello to the Red Sox.
Stats In The Big Leagues
His first two seasons in Detroit were productive for Wilson as he filled a variety of roles. 2017 saw a regression as Wilson posted a 4.50 ERA and 2-5 record in 60 innings of work. Over his five seasons so far in the show, Wilson has appeared in 231 games. Tossing 259.0 innings with a 3.20 ERA, 5.91 K/9, 2.29 BB/9 and a 43.8% ground ball rate.
Alex Wilson has posted an adjusted ERA+ of 132, which is something that should be taken into account. For reference, Red Sox starting pitcher Chris Sale has an adjusted ERA+ of 138. Wilson had his best season as a relief pitcher in 2016, posting career highs in appearances (62), innings (73), posting a 4-0 record with a 2.96 ERA, with 49 Ks and 21 walks.
Most relief pitchers rely on their fastball, Wilson’s four-seam has average 93.3 over his season. Despite regressing in 2017, his four-seam averaged 93.5 MPH right in line with his career average. It’s also up from his 2016 average of 92.7.
The first graphic is Wilson’s four-seam location from 2007-2016 courtesy of Brooks Baseball:
And now his four-seam from 2017 also courtesy of Brooks Baseball:
He threw his fastball higher in 2017 higher than he did in the first four seasons of his career on the mound. As Wilson started pitching his four-seamer higher he saw his GB% dip to 41.6%. His career GB% rate is 43.8%. This also jumped Wilson’s O-Contact% up to 72.9%, almost 6% higher than his career average of 66.7%.
Wilson utilized his sinker more in 2017, throwing it 33% of the time, up six percent from 2016. He threw his four-seam less, at 25%. Despite throwing pitches higher last season, he still posted a 6.30 K/9 rate. A statistic slightly higher than his career average. His swinging strike rate was 8.5%, higher than his career average of 8.0% but still below the league average of 10.5%.
Alex Wilson is known for getting solid ground balls and posted a hardball rate of 36% last season, better than Shane Greene (41%). Last season was considerably higher than his season average of 31.3%. This has allowed Wilson to post a .287 BABIP over the course of his career, a better than average BABIP in general terms.
Stats In the Minors
If you look back at some of Wilsons minor league projections with the Red Sox, he was generally viewed to be at best a middle reliever in the majors. As a starter in the minors, Wilson posted a 41.43 GB% which is lower than his career average between the majors and minors. Between 2013 and 2014 he posted a below than career average O-Contact%.
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Fangraphs doesn’t have minor league stats for hardball rate, but the overall trend for Wilson as a starter seems to be that he doesn’t post numbers as well as he does as a reliever. The minors certainly aren’t indicative of what can actually happen. But I wasn’t able to find any projection of Wilson being a starter during his time in the Red Sox’ farm system.
We shouldn’t expect Alex Wilson to end up in the starting rotation at the end of the spring. Even if Wilson is able to successfully pull a pitch or two from his time as a starter in the minors. It’s still unlikely. He’s found more success in utilizing his sinker-cutter combination. If he’s able to bounce back from last year’s downslide he could become a viable option for relief in 2018.