Chicago Cubs: Spring performances leading to increased optimism

(Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images)
(Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images) /
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Chicago Cubs
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Justin Wilson

Remember last season when Justin Wilson forgot how to throw a baseball? That was no good. The team traded highly-touted prospect Jeimer Candelario to the Detroit Tigers to get Wilson and backup catcher Alex Avila. Avila ended up being a lot more helpful than Wilson.

Wilson was having a great season with Detroit, but he completely lost his command once he arrived in Chicago. In 42 games with the Tigers last year, he posted a 2.68 ERA with a 0.942 WHIP in 40 1/3 innings pitched. With the Cubs he could only muster a 5.09 ERA in a paltry 17 2/3 innings pitched. He was so bad that manager Joe Maddon was seemingly forced to just stopped using him.

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His strikeout rate didn’t change when he went from Detroit to Chicago, but his walk rate ballooned all the way up to a staggering 9.7 BB/9. On average, he was putting two people on base every inning he pitched.

Turning the corner?

Wilson is enjoying a solid spring so far, though. He’s yet to give up a run in any of his three appearances. Most encouraging is the fact that he hasn’t issued a walk, either.

But three scoreless innings in Cactus League play is hardly the biggest reason to be optimistic about Wilson in 2018. Sometimes going from one team to another during the middle of a season is a relatively seamless transition. But for other players, it takes them out of their rhythm. Pitchers, in particular, are notorious for this. They’re a meticulous breed.

That could very well have been the case with Wilson. It might just be a matter of adjusting to a new environment. His first-half success with the Tigers in 2017 wasn’t a flash-in-the-pan scenario. He’s proven himself. He was fantastic for the Pirates in 2013 and a solid performer for the Yankees in 2015. Maybe now that he’s had time to get acquainted with his new baseball home, he’ll look more like his former self.