ARLINGTON, TX : C.J. Wilson #36 of the Texas Rangers pitches in the second inning during Game Five of the MLB World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals at Rangers Ballpark. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
C.J. Wilson is now an Angel, putting him in the place where he should find the most success.
There were plenty of reasons to doubt that the new owners of C.J. Wilson would be happy for very long. When rumors of Wilson wanting six years at nearly $20 million per season started to swirl, it seemed as if someone would be guaranteed to regret their purchase, unless the context was perfect.
While he was the top pitcher available on the free-agent market this offseason, he isn't an ace in the true sense of the word. He's had two high-quality seasons as a starting pitcher for a high-quality team, after spending much of his career in the bullpen. He has a ton of value as someone who can throw over 200 valuable innings a year, despite not being a dominant force like some past free-agent hurlers. While he will be 31 in the first year of his new deal, his arm doesn't have a ton of mileage on it thanks to his time as a reliever.
That last paragraph is a mix of reasons to love Wilson as well as be leery of giving him either too much money, too many years, or both. The Angels avoided both problems, by handing him a five-year, $75 million contract -- far more palatable than some of the earlier rumors, and far more money than Wilson likely expected to get as a free agent back when he was in the bullpen.
The Angels also get to avoid the potential pitfalls of Wilson's exit from Texas, as well, as they are setup in much the same way -- if not better. Wilson has been great, as mentioned, but he has had a few boosts that make him look better than he is. For one, Wilson has faced the softest lineups of any starting pitcher (minimum 100 innings pitched) each of the last two seasons. Baseball Prospectus measures just how good (or bad) the opposing lineups a pitcher faces are, by Quality of Opponents OPS. Wilson ranked 147 and 144 out of the same number of starters in 2010 and 2011, respectively.
The Angels face basically the same competition each year as the Rangers, thanks to the unbalanced schedule. The main (and obvious) difference is that they have to play Texas, rather than themselves. The Rangers have had one of the top lineups in the majors each of the last two years, so the Angels have faced a slightly more difficult schedule. But not by much: the Rangers, as a team, rank first in terms of easiest offensive opponents faced the last three years, while the Angels sit fourth.
The difference in OPS is is about three points -- nothing Wilson has to worry about. Now, if he went to, say, the Rays or Blue Jays, who rank 28 and 29 the last three years, there would have been more of an issue in terms of his future performance.
This also extends to defense, where the Rangers have excelled during Wilson's tenure as a starter. In 2010, they ranked fourth in Defensive Efficiency, and in 2011, second to only the Rays. The Angels were good, but not great in 2010, but thanks to some substitutions in the field (namely, getting Bobby Abreu and Juan Rivera off of it), they finished fourth in Defensive Efficiency (71.8 percent of balls in play converted into outs, compared to the Rangers' 72.2 percent). Wilson strikes out his share of batters, but he also induces grounders around 50 percent of the time -- a quality defense behind him is important.
The Angels match the Rangers perk for perk, and even have one of their own that Texas can't compete with. Angel Stadium of Anaheim is far more pitcher-friendly than Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. It's neutral-ish, leaning more towards pitchers overall over the last three years, according to Statcorner, whereas the Ballpark in Arlington is the most offense-heavy park in the American League. Wilson wasn't hurt as much as many pitchers by his home park, given his groundball tendencies, but he still performed better on the road over the years than in Texas.
Arlington is even better for right-handed hitters, a fact that, while not problematic, has hurt Wilson somewhat over the years (.712 OPS allowed against right-handers, 1.9 K/BB, versus .560 and 3.0 against fellow southpaws). Anaheim should help do some of that work for Wilson, as it's rougher on right-handers than he is.
There was potential for disaster in the wrong new setting. Another offense-heavy park, and without the kind of defense Texas had to make up for it, could have spelled trouble. Throw in a tougher division, too, and it's not hard to envision a scenario where some team would have regretted that sixth year or last few million to Wilson. Heading to the Angels was the safest play to both stay in contention and remain productive, and both parties took advantage of that,