Chicago Cubs: Will the real Justin Wilson please stand up?

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

The Chicago Cubs were as aggressive as possible at the trade deadline, landing solid players. However, one player has not panned out. Yet.

To say that the Chicago Cubs were active in the trade market would be an understatement. Discussions were reported for several players, though most weren’t landed. They opened the trading by acquiring Jose Quintana, bolstering their starting rotation. The addition of Rene Rivera is proving to be intelligent. But, there is one more that leaves Cubs fans scratching their heads.

At the time, it was celebrated. The Cubs landed a great reliever in Justin Wilson. The addition of Alex Avila was just a small notation in the mind of the fans. However, it is Avila’s play proving to be the best part of the transactions. Let’s not mention Jeimer Candelario‘s performance for the Detroit Tigers recently.

Still, the key piece was Wilson. That has not turned out liked we hoped.

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It’s not over

Let’s try to do it right this time around. Justin Wilson is one of the most reliable relievers in baseball. Maybe not right now, but his stats prove his worth. For his career, Wilson boasts a 3.30 ERA over 310 2/3 innings pitched. This season, he was on his way to career bests in strikeouts, earned runs, and innings pitched. He already notched 13 saves while with the Tigers.

Then came the trade. Since coming to the Chicago Cubs, his ERA skyrocketed to 5.84 in 15 games. In 12 and one-third innings, Wilson has allowed nine runs on 13 hits, 12 walks and 14 strikeouts. For comparison, in 42 games with the Tigers, he allowed 12 runs, 22 hits and 16 walks.

Picture of consistency

Check the numbers and the graphs. If you look over Wilson’s game logs for the season, you will notice one thing. He was amazing to start the season. It took him eleven games – 10 and two-third innings – before he allowed a hit. Or a run. In 16 games, only two hits and two runs. As a matter of fact, in 42 games, Wilson did not allow a hit or a run in 25 times. He has only four such appearances since joining the Cubs.

The issue? Well, thanks for FanGraphs, we can see the percentages of pitches used in each game. Let’s look at a few games.

Sept. 7 vs. Pittsburgh Pirates: 1 IP, 2H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 2 K

During this game, Wilson featured his fastball 65.9 percent of the time. He used his cutter 21.7 percent and slider 13 percent of all pitches. While his release points were similar (one of Wilson’s strengths), the cutter could not find the strike zone consistently. The fastball was used to get batters to look high or outside, but the cutter was high, low, outside, or down the middle.

Sept. 2 vs. Atlanta Braves: .1 IP, 1 H, 3 ER, 2 BB

A bit of a difference here. The fastball was used more (72.2%), slider less (5.6%), and cutter was similar (22.2%). Only nine of 18 pitches found the strike zone. The fastball was inconsistent, but the cutter was not even close. He only used the slider once.

Aug. 31 vs. Atlanta Braves: 1 IP, 3 K

A great outing. And, guess what? The difference shows in pitches used. The fastball was still featured most (54.6%), but it was the slider that was second (36.4%). When the cutter was used, it found the zone 50% of the time. And, the fastball was around the zone more often.

Moving forward

After looking over the stats and percentages, it appears to be that Wilson is least reliable with his cutter. The movement and velocities are often not significantly different from his fastball. His slider is the pitch that breaks more and moves slower. Yet, it comes out of the same slot as his other pitches.

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For me, using the fastball to establish the zone and the slider to keep hitters honest is when Wilson is at his best. Look at his opening 11 games. The greater the difference in usage of his slider and cutter, the better he performed. Of course, there are a few exceptions, and match up dictates some changes; however, it appears that his cutter is the concern.