Print and Go Back ESPN.com: 2011 [Print without images]

Thursday, December 8, 2011
Can C.J. Wilson remain elite with Angels?

By Tristan H. Cockcroft
ESPN.com

Move over, Miami Marlins. It's the Los Angeles Angels' turn to spend.

On the same day word spread that the Angels had invested $250 million over the next 10 years in Albert Pujols came the announcement that they had signed C.J. Wilson, ex-ace of the division-rival Texas Rangers, to a five-year, $77.5 million deal.

C.J. Wilson
C.J. Wilson won 31 games over the past two seasons after moving into the Rangers' rotation.

It gives the Angels three of the top 12 starting pitchers on our 2011 Player Rater: Jered Weaver (fifth), Dan Haren (ninth) and Wilson (12th). That makes them one of only two teams in baseball that can claim that; the Philadelphia Phillies, who have Roy Halladay (third), Cliff Lee (fourth) and Cole Hamels (eighth) are the others.

The question, of course, is whether those three Angels, and Wilson specifically, can repeat the performance?

The statistics -- and let's address those first -- actually say yes.

Don't underestimate the impact of moving from Texas' Rangers Ballpark to Los Angeles' Angel Stadium, which, while not quite to the levels of shifting from Coors to Petco, still presents a considerable advantage to a pitcher. In 2011, Rangers Ballpark was the No. 1 venue for hitters in terms of runs scored (1.409) and home runs (1.500) on our Park Factor page. To compare, Angel Stadium ranked 27th in runs scored (0.836) and 25th in home runs (0.789). Meanwhile, Baseball-Reference.com's multiyear Park Factors rated Rangers Ballpark a 111 -- over 100 is a hitting-friendly venue and 110-plus is an extreme hitters' park -- for hitters and Angel Stadium a 93.

Wilson's own statistics support the case that he'd stand a greater prospect of success away from the Rangers than with them. Combining his past two seasons' stats -- two seasons being picked because he has spent exactly that long as a full-time starter -- here are his home/road splits:

Home: 19-5 record, 3.70 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 8.06 H/9, 0.66 HR/9
Road: 12-10 record, 2.56 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 6.75 H/9, 0.43 HR/9

Putting aside the silliness of taking stock in his win-loss record, Wilson's stats were noticeably better away from Rangers Ballpark than at it in each of the past two years, and unsurprisingly so. He might have received more credit from his fantasy owners, in fact, had he been a member of the Angels in 2010 and 2011.

What says no, at least potentially, to the above question is Wilson's workload during his first two years as a full-time, big league starter. He was widely questioned entering last season after experiencing a 130 1/3-inning bump from 2009-10, excluding the 24 1/3 postseason innings he threw, yet actually improved in performance in 2011. Still, add up Wilson's regular-season and postseason innings and he has tallied 479 2/3 frames -- or an average of 240 per year. He also threw the ninth-most pitches (3,591) during the regular season.

What's the relevance? A pitcher who, having spent the first five seasons of his big league career as a reliever averaging 56 innings per year, has been worked to the extent that Wilson has the past two seasons might be at somewhat greater risk of regression, or worse, injury, with each passing year. It could, in fact, partly explain why he managed only a 5.79 ERA and 1.71 WHIP in his six postseason appearances, not one of his starts a quality start. Most disturbingly, Wilson walked 19 batters in 28 postseason frames -- an average of 6.11 per nine -- after registering a career-best 2.98 walks-per-nine ratio during the regular season.

That worry, perhaps, is enough to make top-25-starter status debatable with Wilson, though the long term, not 2012 alone, might be the greater concern. With the move to the Angels, he's a clear top-25 starter on my list, placing 22nd.

Tristan H. Cockcroft is a fantasy baseball analyst for ESPN.com and a two-time champion of the League of Alternative Baseball Reality (LABR) experts league. You can e-mail him here, or follow him on Twitter @SultanofStat.