Detroit Tigers add "unicorn" arm in Matt Wisler on MiLB contract

Tampa Bay Rays relief pitcher Matt Wisler (37) throws a pitch during a 2022 contest.
Tampa Bay Rays relief pitcher Matt Wisler (37) throws a pitch during a 2022 contest. / Jim Cowsert-USA TODAY Sports

Detroit Tigers agree to a minor league contract with Matt Wisler.

Now that the football season has officially ended after the Super Bowl, it's officially baseball season. The Detroit Tigers are ready for Spring Training and are making the final preparations to get going.

One of those last-minute moves was to sign reliever Matt Wisler to a minor league deal. He joins the Detroit Tigers organization looking to nab a spot in the team's bullpen or serve as bullpen depth in the minors to call upon as needed in 2023.

Since he is signing a minor league deal, he will have to earn his way onto the 40-man roster before he makes the big league club. But with his makeup, he could very well find his way onto the 40-man early in the 2023 campaign.

Wisler gets the invite to Spring Training and will be one of the arms to keep an eye on as the team starts to get their roster picked out and etched into stone before going north back to Detroit. The bullpen improved last season but lost two key pieces this off-season in trades and is looking to replace those assets.

Not that Wisler can slot in and fill a void left by Joe Jiménez and/or Gregory Soto, but his "unicorn" makeup could make him worthy of a bullpen spot. Wisler spent his 2022 season with the Rays bullpen, and if there's one team that knows how to squeeze value out of unlikely sources, it's the Rays.

Wisler pitched in 39 games during the 2022 season and accumulated 44.0 innings pitched. He managed a 2.25 ERA and a 1.00 WHIP while punching out 35 opposing hitters. The strikeout numbers may not be through the roof, but he surrendered just 14 walks and allowed 30 hits, so the ability to be efficient is crucial.

Even though Wisler is not going to go out and punch out six hitters over two innings of work and be the lights-out reliever, he gets the job done to keep the opposition at pay. He's got a unique makeup, giving him outlier stuff or at least an outlier profile.

Wisler throws just two pitches, and according to Baseball Savant in 2022, he threw his slider 91.5% of the time while utilizing the fastball just 8.5% of the time. The fastball averages around 89.7 mph and spins at just 1,953 RPMs on average. The slider, in comparison, averages 79.8 mph and spins at 2,477 RPMs on average.

Frankly, the slider is disgusting. He throws it around 80 mph with good bite to it, it does induce whiffs, and he has a really good feel to spin it and locate it where he wants. The fastball has some arm-side life to it, but it's nothing special. However, he throws the slider harder in the mid-80s or at least more like 83-84 mph, and it looks more like a cutter.

No matter what, these pitches all tunnel from the same arm slot and can be deceptive to a hitter. It's not that he will go out there and induce swings and misses the entire time, but he will miss barrels and force the opposition to pop the ball up in the air.

In Wisler's case, he will go out and bully hitters with sliders, aiming to induce pop-outs. In 2022, it worked. The Rays figured out how to get it done with Wisler. Sure, he's going to leave one in a spot that a good hitter can demolish for an extra-base hit or a home run, but the 2.25 ERA and 1.00 WHIP indeed speaks to his ability to go out and make his pitches.

For the Tigers, a strong showing this Spring out of Wisler could be big for the team's bullpen. Having that unicorn arm in the bullpen can be crucial at times, and Wisler is a dark horse candidate to have a more significant role with this pitching staff in 2023 than it may seem as simply a non-roster invitee right now.

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