Chicago Cubs: Justin Wilson is the key to a dominant bullpen

Justin Wilson wasn’t able to put it together for the Chicago Cubs when they acquired him at the trade deadline in 2017. However, he’s been very good in the past, and if he can be good in 2018, he’ll be an essential piece of the bullpen.

It wasn’t the loudest move the Cubs made at trade deadline last season, but it felt like a good one. The Cubs sent prospects Jeimer Candelario and Isaac Paredes to the Detroit Tigers for catcher Alex Avila and Justin Wilson.

Wilson had been having a career year before coming to the Cubs. He had an ERA+ of 171 in his 40 1/3 innings for the Tigers in 2017. After coming to Chicago, however, his ERA+ dropped to just 87 in his 17 2/3 innings. He was bad for the Cubs in 2017, but there’s reason to believe he can bounce back in 2018.

Wilson’s biggest problem is clear

If you look at Justin Wilson’s career, his 17 2/3 Cubs innings in 2017 were by far the worst numbers of his career. And his primary issue is pretty easy to point to: he walked 9.7 batters per nine innings.

Wilson just couldn’t find the strike zone in Wrigley Field. That isn’t a great problem to have, but it’s a far more fixable issue than if he had lost velocity. If the new pitching coach Jim Hickey can help him rediscover the strike zone with greater regularity, Wilson will be a big asset for Joe Maddon.

What Justin Wilson can bring if he gets right

Justin Wilson was getting better and better in Detroit before his move to Chicago derailed his progress. He had pitched more than 50 innings every season since 2013. His ERA mostly stayed on the lower end of the 3.00s and he didn’t give up the long ball.

When the Cubs acquired Wilson, they had hopes of him being the closer in 2018. His performance ruined that plan and may have played a part in the Cubs’ signing of Brandon Morrow. But Morrow isn’t a closer by trade and if Wilson turns it around, he could just as easily wiggle his way back into the closer role.

So far this season, Wilson has pitched well. He appeared on Opening Day and in the team’s 17-inning loss Friday. Through 2 2/3 innings, he is yet to allow a run on the young campaign. It’s far too early to tell if these types of performances are here to stay, but promising nonetheless.

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Justin Wilson’s shortcomings for the Cubs in 2017 are hard to ignore, but there’s still plenty of evidence indicating he could be a force in Joe Maddon’s bullpen in 2018.