Let me preface this article by saying that I watch A LOT of baseball. I also have an extensive analytical background and am always analyzing baseball stats looking for value in players. Last week, I was watching an Orioles game and the starting pitcher was a player I have never heard of. His name is Tyler Wilson. While watching the game, I was very impressed with his overall make-up and the confidence he displayed in each one of his pitches. Many times what separates a pitcher from being able to start at the big-league level versus being destined for the bullpen is the ability to throw multiple pitches. The ability to throw each of those pitches effectively, however, can be what separates a good starting pitcher from a great starting pitcher. The more I watched of Wilson, the more intrigued I became about his future outlook, and the more motivated I became to write this article. (I went back and watched all of Wilson’s starts this year before writing this article.)
To give you a little background, Tyler Wilson has never been an elite prospect. He attended college at the University of Virginia, where he was overlooked by fellow staff-mate, and future 1st round pick, Danny Hultzen. Wilson was drafted by the Orioles in the 10th round of the 2011 MLB Draft. Ever since being drafted, he has quietly excelled at every level. He doesn’t have the dominant strikeout numbers that you look for in pitching prospects, which is a big reason he has gone overlooked for much of his career.
After climbing his way through the organizational ladder, Wilson made his major league debut with the Orioles last year and eventually made the team this year out of spring training. Although he made the team in a bullpen role, early season injuries to the Orioles pitching staff opened up an opportunity and Wilson has really taken advantage of it. Enough of the background though. Let’s move on to what I saw while actually watching him pitch.
Tyler Wilson features a cutter and a two-seam fastball. Each of these pitches sit in the 89-91 mph range and both show a great amount of movement. The cutter is most effective against right-handed batters when thrown on the outside portion of the plate. Check out the video below to watch him fool Kansas City Royals outfielder Lorenzo Cain with three straight cutters:
He essentially gave Cain, a very good hitter, three of the exact same pitches in a row…and Cain couldn’t touch them. In every start this year, Wilson has pounded the outside corner with this cutter and has had fantastic results. Don’t think by any means though that he is a one trick pony. As soon as you start to expect that cutter on the outside corner, Wilson will come right back in on you with a two-seam fastball:
Look at the horizontal movement on that pitch! Absolutely filthy! Wilson has showed a ton of confidence in both of those pitches so far this season as he uses them to pound both sides of the strike zone and his command of them has been exceptional. He is not afraid to throw them in any count and they are equally effective vs both left-handed and right-handed batters.
While his fastballs both seemed to be plus pitches upon first glance, I started to have thoughts that this guy might be for real as soon as he started throwing his curveball. Wilson’s breaking ball sits in the 77-79 mph range. I was astonished by how well he was able to locate his curve and the amount of movement on each and every one he threw. Watch him send White Sox slugger Jose Abreu down swinging in the video below:
Abreu had no chance. In his most recent start against the Twins, Wilson’s curve looked even better. Check out the one he threw to Byung-Ho Park:
Both of those pitches came in a 2-2 count. Many pitchers are scared to throw a breaking ball in a 2-2 count, especially to players with plus power such as Abreu and Park. If you miss your target, two things can happen. One — you leave the ball up in the zone and it gets hit out of the stadium. Two — you throw it in the dirt; the hitter lays off; and now you have to pitch to this slugger with a full count. Wilson isn’t scared to throw his curveball in any count and that is what makes him so dangerous. You never know when to expect it, but at the same time you have to expect that he can throw it at any moment.
The last pitch in Wilson’s arsenal is his changeup. This pitch has a ton of downward movement and produces a lot of groundballs. While there were many better examples that I could have shown you of his change-up in action, I wanted to show one of his bad ones. Even when he missed his target, the batter was still fooled by the amount of movement on this pitch. Check out the following pitch to Royals SS Alcides Escobar:
The catcher set up down in the zone and Wilson clearly misses his target. Luckily it didn’t seem to matter as the pitch had an insane amount of horizontal movement, running in on Escobar and jamming him.
Take a look at the chart below, showing the vertical and horizontal movement on each of Wilson’s pitches:
The middle portion of this chart is empty. All five of his pitches have a tremendous amount of movement, and none of them move in the same direction. The fact that he is able to command each of these pitches so well and keep hitters guessing with which one will come next is the reason why he has had so much success. A big reason why hitters are having trouble guessing his pitches is because of how well Wilson is able to repeat his delivery. The chart below shows Wilson’s release point for each type of pitch:
As you can see, his release point is almost identical with all five of his pitches. At this point, I have watched all of his starts from this season and was very impressed. I then decided to do some research and was immediately impressed with stats such as his career BB rate and low WHIP, but wanted to dig further. I began to look through the PITCHf/x data because I was curious to see how effective each of his pitches actually were. Based on the PITCHf/x value metric, all of his pitches so far this year have graded as above average. If you are not familiar with the PITCHf/x value scale, someone who has a fastball ranking of zero means that he possesses an average fastball. Any value above zero means that pitch is above average. Obviously the higher the number, the better the pitch. The same goes for negative numbers and pitches being below average. See the table below for the breakdown of Wilson’s arsenal:
Based on the above values, the change-up has been Wilson’s most valuable pitch this season with his curveball close behind. Obviously it is very early in the season and we are working with a small sample size…but that doesn’t mean we can’t have fun! While doing this research, I set out the goal to find every starting pitcher who throws five or more above-average pitches. Below is the list of players who fit that description:
IP = Innings Pitched
FA = Fastball
FT = Two-Seam Fastball
FC = Cut Fastball
SI = Sinker
SL = Slider
CU = Curveball
CH = Change-up
KC = Knuckle Curveball
EP = Eephus
There are only five pitchers who have thrown five or more pitches above average so far this season! Wilson is in great company, as the other four pitchers are all All-Star-caliber players and borderline household names. Being that this is such a small sample size, I decided to look back at last year’s stats to see how many players fit this description over a full season. Using the same parameters and setting the minimum IP to 100, the following table was produced:
Once again, the names on this list are some of the top pitchers in baseball. A few of these pitchers have a pitch that graded out as below average, but since they had five or more different pitches all individually grade as above average, they made the final cut.
As you can see, it is very rare to have a pitcher who has five legitimate plus pitches. I am very interested to see if Tyler Wilson can maintain these results over the course of a full season, and I really hope he is given the opportunity to do so. If he continues to pitch the way he has been, the Orioles will have no choice but to leave him in the rotation. Although he has had limited success, Wilson has struggled in each of his starts when facing the lineup the third time around. This could be due to the fact that he is still in the process of being stretched out from his bullpen role. When in the bullpen, you don’t have to prepare to face the same hitter three times. I am hopeful that once he is fully stretched out and back into his starter mentality, he will be able to make the necessary adjustments and continue to throw all of his pitches with confidence. If he can continue to make quality pitches as he faces the lineup for a third time, I believe Tyler Wilson has the chance to become a very special pitcher.
Memorable quotes I heard during the TV broadcasts:
“Everyone thinks that I pitch with a chip on my shoulder but I really don’t. I just go out and compete. I don’t think of it that way.” – Tyler Wilson
“I think he understands himself. He can maintain his game-plan throughout the game. He’s going to keep us in the game and give us a chance to win. What more can you ask for?” – Pitching Coach Dave Wallace
“I love that he can make the ball run in and then cut away. He pitches to both sides of the plate. Not a lot of young pitchers can do that.” – Manager Buck Showalter
…no Buck, not a lot of young pitchers can do that.
Twitter – @mtamburri922