JUSTIN WILSON
LEFT HANDED PITCHER
  Born: August 18, 1987
Height: 6′ 2″
Weight: 233
Bats: Left
Throws: Left
Drafted: 5th Round, 144th Overall, 2008
How Acquired: Draft
College: Fresno State
Agent: N/A

Links:

Interview with Justin Wilson
Justin Wilson 8/16/2009 Video Recap
Justin Wilson 9/14/2009 Video Recap

WTM’S PIRATE PLAYER PROFILES

Like Chase D’Arnaud, Baseball America did not have Wilson in its top 200 draft prospects in 2008, but characterized him as a likely 6th to 10th round pick.  He throws a fastball that has a lot of life, enough so that Wilson has trouble controlling it.  His velocity as a starter during his first couple years in the minors could be anywhere from 87-93.  Wilson also throws a curve and a slider.  He had control problems in college, although he also had very good K numbers at times.  At the time of the draft he seemed likely to sign quickly, but after he won considerable notoriety as a hero in the College World Series, his demands went up substantially.  The Pirates weren’t able to sign him until two days before the August 15 deadline, for slot money, surprisingly.  Given the delay, Wilson didn’t appear in any minor league games the year he was drafted.

2009
A+:  6-8-0, 4.50 ERA, 1.49 WHIP, 116 IP, 4.3 BB/9, 7.3 K/9

The Pirates sent Wilson straight to Lynchburg, as current management is much more aggressive in challenging prospects than their predecessors were.  The move appeared to backfire when Wilson struggled, posting an ERA of 6.58 combined for April through June.  The primary problem was poor command, resulting in lots of walks and HRs (14).  He turned things turned around in the last two months, though, with an ERA of 2.61.  The turnaround included one 11-strikeout performance over seven shutout innings.  Wilson also pitched well in two playoff starts.  Command remained an issue, though, as Wilson sometimes struggled with high pitch counts and too many walks.

2010
AA:  11-8-0, 3.09 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 142.2 IP, 4.5 BB/9, 8.5 K.9

Had a very successful season at Altoona, although concerns about his command remained.  At times he was extremely effective.  In one late-season start, against league’s highest-scoring team, he threw eight shutout innings, allowing two hits and no walks while fanning 11.  He also had some control meltdowns.  In his last ten starts, for instance, he walked 34 in 51 innings, and those starts included the one with eight shutout, no-walk innings.  In some games, Wilson had to come out early due to high pitch counts.  Opponents batted only .215 against him and he allowed only four HRs.

2011
AAA:  10-8-3, 4.13 ERA, 1.51 WHIP, 124.1 IP, 4.8 BB/9, 6.8 K/9

The Pirates debated whether to move Wilson up to AAA to start the season, but they decided to do so when Brad Lincoln opened the season on the disabled list.  Wilson started the season well, but had more and more trouble as hitters increasingly laid off his pitches.  He had a 2.25 ERA and .191 opponents’ average in April, but over the next three months those numbers were 4.54 and .272.  After one start in August, the Pirates moved Wilson to the bullpen.  He had more success there, even picking up three saves, but he still walked ten in 14 innings, although he also fanned 16.  The most interesting aspect of the move was that, according to multiple reports, his velocity got as high as 99 on several occasions.

2012
AAA:  9-6-0, 3.78 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 135.2 IP, 4.4 BB/9, 9.2 K/9
MLB:  0-0-0, 1.93 ERA, 2.79 WHIP, 4.2 IP, 5.8 BB/9, 13.5 K/9

Wilson returned to the Indianapolis rotation and had stretches in which he was nearly unhittable.  In fact, he pitched in two combined no-hitters.  Overall, opponents hit just .189 against him–left-handed batters just .129–and he fanned over a batter an inning.  Every time he seemed to be turning a corner, though, he’d have one or more games in which he couldn’t throw strikes.  The Pirates moved him to the bullpen in mid-August in preparation for a September callup.  Despite the low ERA, he struggled badly in the majors, mainly due to an inability to throw strikes.  Of the 26 batters he faced, exactly half reached base.  His fastball sat at 93-94 and reached 96.

2013
MLB:  6-1-0, 2.08 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 73.2 IP, 3.4 BB/9, 7.2 K/9

Wilson combined with Tony Watson to give the Pirates an outstanding pair of bullpen lefties.  Wilson continued to have control issues at times, but improved significantly in that area.  Like Watson, he benefited from a very low, probably unsustainable batting average on balls in play of .229.  Wilson produced a high groundball rate, 53%, which undoubtedly helped him in combination with the Pirates’ defensive shifts and good defense.  His K rate was surprisingly low, especially considering that his velocity actually jumped up a notch, from 93-94 to a little over 95 on average, hitting 99 occasionally.  Wilson also started throwing a cutter, which according to Pfx was a fairly effective pitch.  His platoon split was minimal:  right handed batters managed an OPS against him of only .563, left-handed just .501.  In another similarity to Watson, Wilson’s percentage of swinging strikes increased (from 7.7% in very limited 2012 action to 9%, which is around average), and hitters made much more contact on pitches out of the strike zone.  Some of this could result from the Pirates’ wanting their pitchers to focus on getting groundballs.  Clint Hurdle frequently used Wilson to pitch more than an inning, but he seemed to tire a little late in the season and the Pirates limited him to one inning per outing in September.  He pitched only six and two-thirds innings that month.

2014
MLB:  3-4-0, 4.20 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 60.0 IP, 4.5 BB/9, 9.2 K/9

Wilson had a rough season, struggling more with his control and getting hit a little harder, although he still allowed only a 220/320/323 line.  He had a tendency to be in the wrong place at the wrong time:  opponents had a .755 OPS against him in high leverage situations, compared to .568 in medium and .622 in low leverage situations.  (He was better in high leverage situations in 2013, so, no, this doesn’t mean he isn’t “clutch.”)  Hurdle became increasingly reluctant to use him in high leverage situations later in the season and he also had much shorter outings on average.  He continued to pitch without regard to left- or right-handed opponents and, in fact, had a mild reverse platoon split.  Wilson threw fastballs over 90% of the time, possibly in part due to being behind in the count a lot.

Wilson still has excellent stuff and, despite his control problems, wasn’t at all easy to hit in 2014.  He has two options left, but the Pirates showed no inclination to send him to the minors.  There’s no reason to think he can’t bounce back and be a dominant reliever again in 2015.

STATS
Baseball Reference–Majors
Baseball Reference–Minors
Fangraphs
MLB.com
MiLB.com
CONTRACT INFORMATION
2013: $493,500
2014:
 $515,000
2015: Major league minimum
PLAYER INFORMATION
Signing Bonus: $195,000
MiLB Debut: 2009
MLB Debut: 8/20/2012
MiLB FA Eligible: N/A
MLB FA Eligible: 2018
Rule 5 Eligible: N/A
Added to 40-Man: 11/18/2011
Options Remaining: 2 (USED:  2012)
MLB Service Time: 1.035
TRANSACTIONS
June 8, 2005: Drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 37th round, 1126th overall pick.
June 6, 2008: Drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 5th round, 144th overall pick; signed on August 13.
November 18, 2011: Contract purchased by the Pittsburgh Pirates.