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Why I’m Down on C.J. Wilson

A week and a half ago, I published my American League starting pitcher tiers, which were based on my projections and ranked pitchers in descending order of dollar value. One of the bigger surprises was C.J. Wilson landing in the third tier, ranking 16th among all AL starters. This ranking was behind guys like Brandon Morrow, Colby Lewis and Max Scherzer, who it is likely that the vast majority of fantasy owners would draft much later than Wilson. So why am I down on Wilson? Let me count the reasons.

After being signed by the Angels and getting out of Texas, the immediate assumption would be that Wilson would be even better. After all, we all know that Rangers Ballpark is a hitter’s haven and Angel Stadium favors pitchers. Many also like to point out Wilson’s home/road splits as more evidence that he is going to thrive even more so in Los Angeles. In the last two seasons as a starter, Wilson has posted ERAs of 3.70 and 3.69 at home, but 2.91 and 2.31 away. Surely, he is pitching much better away from Rangers Ballpark, right? Well, not exactly.

As you are probably well aware by now, I mostly ignore ERA and choose to focus on the peripherals and the expected ERA metrics, like SIERA, as that gives us a much better idea of the pitcher’s talent, stripping out luck. Unfortunately, SIERA is not available for home/road splits, but his xFIP at home has been 4.03 and 3.27. What has it been away? Surprisingly, even worse at 4.11 and 3.53. So his skills have actually been worse pitching away from home. Only great fortune in away games has created the illusion that he is really being hurt by his home park.

His BABIPs away have been much lower than at home for one. Now, Rangers Ballpark does inflate hits on balls in play, but Wilson’s differential is much larger than you would expect just simply based on park factors. Ground ball pitchers typically don’t post BABIP marks well below the league average like Wilson has, so it would take a much larger sample size to convince me that Wilson has some sort of hit suppression skill only rarely seen in ground ballers. Similarly, his LOB% is much higher during away games. The BABIP difference alone probably isn’t enough to explain this. Last, his HR/FB ratio in 2010 was nearly identical both home and away, both being at unsustainably low levels. In 2011, his home mark jumped to 11%, which is above league average and makes sense given the home run inflating powers Rangers Ballpark has. But his away mark was again between 5% and 6% and that’s simply not a level any starting pitcher has the skill to sustain.

Overall, in 2011 Wilson posted a 2.94 ERA, but a 3.44 SIERA. So clearly he benefited from some good luck, but a 3.44 ERA would still be excellent for this year if his luck neutralizes. Well yes, but that assumes he posts similar skills this year, which is not something I think he can do. His 8.3 K/9 is likely to fall given his below league average SwStk% and his BB/9 is probably going to rise given his history and worse than league average F-Strike%. Worsening peripherals are going to cause his SIERA to spike and only another year of below league average BABIP and HR/FB ratio marks will prevent his ERA from rising into the high 3.00 range.

My official projection is:

215 3.71 1.30 14 189 7.9 3.4 0.300 10%

That ERA projection falls between his SIERA marks over the last two seasons as a starter. He is just barely earning positive value from his ERA and his WHIP actually hurts fantasy teams ever so slightly. His value basically comes solely from wins and strikeouts according to what I am projecting.