“He just can’t win the big one.” Whether you believe in that narrative or choose to ignore it, someone is going to write those words about C.J. Wilson this off-season. Widely considered the best pitcher on the free-agent market, Wilson’s post-season numbers may be a cause for concern for his potential suitors. With many of those suitors watching, you have to wonder whether the 31-year-old Wilson has already cost himself millions with his poor post-season performances.
There’s no denying Wilson has really struggled this post-season. In five starts, an abundance of walks and home runs have plagued Wilson. His 2.98 walk rate in the regular season — which was a career low — has ballooned to 6.41 this post-season. Due to his lack of control, one might deduce that Wilson’s nerves may be getting to him.
That would be a foolish assumption, however, as Wilson was able to keep his walk rate under control during the 2010 post-season. While he didn’t pitch particularly well last post-season — his FIP was 5.17 — it’s clear that Wilson is a talented pitcher.
Since 2010 — when Wilson made the conversion to starting pitcher — he’s been one of the best pitchers in baseball. Over that period, Wilson ranks 9th in WAR among starting pitchers — better than Tim Lincecum, David Price and Jon Lester.
The more we actually analyze Wilson’s stats, the more apparent is becomes that we shouldn’t draw too much from his post-season performances. Since 2010, Wilson has posted the second lowest HR/9 rate among all qualified starting pitchers. In the post-season, Wilson has allowed home runs in bunches. Which stat do you think is more indicative of Wilson’s true talent, the one compiled in 67 starts, or the one compiled in nine?
While we know that we shouldn’t let a small sample affect the way we think about a player, the media often looks for a convenient narrative/someone to blame when things go wrong. If the Texas Rangers fail to win the World Series, it’s likely Wilson will be one of the biggest goats of the post-season. While that might be somewhat warranted given his performance, it should not affect the way teams view Wilson heading into free agency. General managers like Brian Cashman — whose team is widely believed to be in the running for Wilson once free agency begins — are smart enough not to be swayed by tiny samples. Hell, the media said similar things about A-Rod shortly after he joined the New York Yankees. Look how well that narrative held up.
While there are some legitimate reasons to be concerned about Wilson going forward — mainly his short track record as a starter and high number of innings pitched this season — his poor post-season performances shouldn’t be one of them. Over the past two seasons, Wilson has established himself as one of the best pitchers in baseball. It would be foolish to change our opinions of him based on just nine starts, especially when those starts are coming against some of the best teams in baseball.
Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.