Chicago Cubs: What’s gone wrong with Justin Wilson?

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /

When the Chicago Cubs acquired Justin Wilson and Alex Avila, it seemed like Wilson was the primary piece of that deal. Little did we know that Avila would be thrust into a starting role, while Wilson has scuffled early on.

The game of baseball is a strange sport. The Chicago Cubs can attest to that. With a similar team to what they won the World Series with last year, they scuffled out of the gate. Well, then they scuffled all the way to the halfway point. They weren’t getting the pitching they needed. And when they did, they bats went silent. They turned it around after the break and reclaimed first place in the NL Central. Oddly enough, with Addison Russell and Willson Contreras out, and now Jon Lester joining them–they’re playing some pretty good baseball.

When Contreras went down with the hamstring injury, that moved Alex Avila into the starting role. A role that he’s more than capable of handling. But the key guy the Cubs got in the trade that saw them give up Jeimer Candelario was Justin Wilson. He’s shown himself to be anything but capable, at least thus far. The former Tigers’ closer was 13 of 15 in save opportunities with a 2.68 ERA. In 40 1.3 innings, he had allowed just 16 walks. In 5 2/3 with the Cubs, he’s already allowed nine. What is going on with Wilson?

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Free passes are never good

The walks are an apparent plight on his time in Chicago. Wilson has walked 14.4 per/9 IP and has seen his K/9 IP rate drop significantly from 12.3 in Detroit to 7.9 with the Cubs. His strikeout to walk rate that had been so good with the Tigers at 3.44? It’s just 0.56 with a WHIP of 3.176. There’s a lot of bad right now, even when things turn out good for him.

Wilson managed to get the win in the Cubs’ walk-off win on Sunday, but it wasn’t because of a clean performance. He pitched just a third of an inning, walking two while allowing one of his inherited runners to score. If not for the Cubs offensive–well, let’s just say they were productive–Wilson would simply be on the end of another poor outing. The win detracted from it, but it’s still a concern.

Joe trusts him, I trust him

Before his outing on Sunday, Wilson admitted to Joe Maddon that he’d had bouts of wildness. In 2014 with the Pirates, Wilson walked 30 in 60 innings. But Wilson has the stuff to get the job done, and Maddon believes in him.

"“I have patience and respect for his ability, so I told him to go pitch,” Maddon said."

It might be nerves or pitching for a new team. But I can assure you that Wilson doesn’t “suck” as many fans have said. What Maddon does need to do is get him in a low-leverage spot to get him some confidence. Putting in Koji Uehara was another move that Maddon wasn’t big on, but the bullpen was getting tapped out quickly.

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Getting Wilson back on track is essential for Maddon. He’s had to do it this season with Hector Rondon, Carl Edwards and Pedro Strop. Each has had his moments of strife, but have found their way back to pitching effectively based on their numbers–not what the fans think.

With several friends in the Detroit area that have spoken highly of Wilson, I have no fear that he will get back on track. We just need it to be sooner than later as the Cubs continue to push for another postseason appearance.