Chicago Cubs: Expect a comeback year from reliever Justin Wilson

CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 12: Justin Wilson
CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 12: Justin Wilson /

The Chicago Cubs’ bullpen continues to be upgraded as the offseason progresses. It could be even better if Justin Wilson returns to form.

The biggest and most glaring weakness the Chicago Cubs had last year was their bullpen. But the signing of free agents Brandon Morrow and Steve Cishek gives this bullpen a different look. With the addition of another good arm or two, the Cubs’ bullpen could be back on track.

Who could make the most significant impact, though, is Justin Wilson. The Cubs gave up highly-touted infield prospect Jeimer Candelario to get him, but Wilson didn’t look like himself when he arrived in Chicago. If he can turn things around in 2018, the Cubs will finally have the relief weapon they thought they were getting last season.

More from Chicago Cubs News

Looking at the numbers

Sometimes a change of scenery is just what a player needs to find his groove again. Other times, it’s the opposite. So it was with Justin Wilson, who was having another good season with the Detroit Tigers before being dealt to the Cubs.

In 42 games with the Tigers in 2017, Wilson pitched to the tune of a 2.68 ERA over 40 1/3 innings pitched. He posted an impressive 0.942 WHIP, 3.23 FIP and recorded 12.3 strikeouts per nine innings. Those are elite numbers. Unfortunately for the Cubs, Wilson completely lost his control after the trade.

With the Cubs, Wilson appeared in just 23 games, posting a 5.09 ERA over 17 2/3 innings pitched. How bad was the Cubs’ new relief arm?  He couldn’t even manage 20 total innings in the second half. With an atrocious WHIP of 2.094, Wilson just couldn’t find the strike zone. In just over 17 innings, he walked 19 batters, giving him a walk rate of 19.3 percent in the second half.

Getting past a down year

Looking at Wilson’s career numbers, there’s reason to believe his luck is bound to change. At no point in his career has he looked as bad as he did with the Cubs in 2017. Over the course of his six years in the league, Wilson has gone 22-14 with a 3.30 ERA (121 ERA+) to go along with 338 strikeouts in 316 innings pitched.

Expect Justin Wilson to adjust to his new team and his new ballpark. From the first half to the second half, his walk rate nearly tripled. Realistically, that’s not a trend that will continue.

When the walks starts being held to a minimum, Wilson will be the elite bullpen arm the Cubs acquired at last season’s trade deadline. His strikeout numbers have always been great. In fact, even with his struggles in Chicago, he still struck out 25 batters in his 17 2/3 innings. His velocity is still looking good, too. Clocking in at 96.2 miles per hour, Wilson’s average fastball velocity in 2017 was the fastest it’s been in three years.

Next: Cubs showing perfect blend of aggression and patience

Justin Wilson should look like his normal self next season. And that’s a good thing for the Chicago Cubs. With his presence and the addition of the team’s new arms, the Cubs’ bullpen should look much better in 2018.