With the exception of Mike Pelfrey (4.55 xFIP), the rest of the Mets rotation was pretty darn solid in 2011. Jonathon Niese posted a 3.28 xFIP, R.A. Dickey a 3.95 xFIP, Chris Capuano a 3.67 xFIP, and rookie Dillon Gee a 4.46 xFIP. With Johan Santana hopefully back in the fold next season, a rotation of Santana, Niese, Dickey, Gee, and a free agent would be very respectable. However, given the dearth of good free agent pitchers, C.J. Wilson is far and away the “ace” of free agency. It’s only natural to want to sign “the best,” but one has to wonder if handing Wilson a long-term team is really a smart move.
Before emerging as an ace-type pitcher for the Texas Rangers, C.J. Wilson was just a middle-to-late-inning reliever. From 2005 to 2009, Wilson owned a 4.30 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 2.04 K/BB, and 52 Saves. His finest season out of the ‘pen came in 2009, when the left-hander posted a 2.81 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, and 2.63 K/BB. But with the emergence Neftali Feliz in 2010 (2.73 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 3.94 K/BB, and 40 Saves), and lack of starting pitchers, the Rangers thrust Wilson into a starting gig. The experiment paid off.
The southpaw hurled an impressive 3.35 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, and 1.83 K/BB in 204 innings. A good reason for Wilson’s success was his amazing repertoire of pitches. The pitcher owned five above average pitches–including a fastball (16.8 RAA), slider (5.9 RAA), cutter (8.8 RAA), curveball (0.7 RAA), and change-up (1.0 RAA). Granted, Wilson’s .287 BABIP and 4.06 xFIP suggested his production would regress, but considering his lack of starting experience at the Major League level, the Rangers were more than pleased (4.6 WAR or $18.5 million).
Going into 2011, the 30 year-old had a few skill sets to work on in order to become a truly “elite” pitcher. Wilson’s solid 7.5 K/9 would suffice given his great 49.2% GB%, but the above league-average 4.1 BB/9 had to go. Not only did Wilson’s strikeout rate improve in 2011 (from 7.5 K/9 to 8.3 K/9), but also his mediocre control reduced to a very respectable level (from 4.1 BB/9 to 2.98 BB/9). In addition, his fastball was worth more (from 16.8 RAA to 22.4 RAA), and so was his cutter (from 8.8 RAA to 10.6 RAA). Wilson’s improved 2.94 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, and 2.78 K/BB were also advanced surface stats from 2010. His more sustainable .287 BABIP (also his career average) and 3.41 xFIP showed that Wilson might not be an ideal ace, but still a legitimate number one pitcher (5.9 WAR or $26.5 million).
Regardless of Wilson’s across the board improvements from year one to year two as a starting pitcher, the New York Mets should still not sign him. Since Wilson is the sole prize among free agent pitchers, the volume of suitors will certainly bump his contract years and money to levels no team in their right mind should entertain. The Mets should learn their lesson from the past Johan Santana and Oliver Perez deals, as it is very rare for a long-term pitcher contract to ever work out for the better. In addition, looking forward to 2013, there will be a much more saturated market for starting pitchers–potentially featuring the likes of Matt Cain, John Danks, Zack Greinke, Cole Hamels, Anibal Sanchez. If the Mets can get a more-or-less full season from Johan Santana and take a chance on a good buy-low option like Kevin Slowey, it will save the team and fans a lot of pain in year three, four, and five with a potential C.J. Wilson deal.