The Yankees’ signing of Justin Wilson was mostly well-received. The former Yankee came back to the Bronx on a short contract to fill a middle relief role, and all but ensured that the Yankees “won” their original Wilson trade (in which the team dealt Wilson to Detroit for Chad Green and Luis Cessa). Six years later, all three relievers were set to be a part of the Yankees’ bullpen.
Unfortunately, Wilson left a recent spring training outing with shoulder tightness, and come Opening Day, he will be on the injured list, though he is not expected to stay there for long. Once Wilson is healthy, he should be a key piece for the Yankees’ bullpen.
2020 Stats: 19.2 IP, 3.66 ERA, 3.04 FIP, 1.37 WHIP, 10.53 K/9, 4.12 BB/9, 0.46 HR/9, 0.5 fWAR
2021 ZiPS Projections: 44.1 IP, 3.86 ERA, 3.87 FIP, 11.58 K/9, 5.08 BB/9, 1.02 HR/9, 0.6 fWAR
Wilson spent the last two seasons with the Mets, where he achieved his highest highs since leaving the Yankees. His strikeout rate remained strong, he lowered his walk rate, and became a master at generating soft contact. Wilson’s average exit velocity against of 84.5 mph last year was in the top five percent in all of the league, and his weak contact percentage was more than twice as high as league average.
Wilson generated lots of pop-ups last year, which can be attributed to his improved fastballs. His four-seamer was his primary strikeout pitch, and his cutter generated a low launch angle. Wilson has always excelled at keeping the ball in the park, and that has continued through his 30s.
Wilson struggled through spring training, and left his most recent appearance with shoulder tightness. The Yankees issued a confusing press release, saying there was “nothing actionable” in his MRI, and Wilson threw on Saturday for the first time since then. The Yankees’ oddly vague wording led to some fear, but Wilson said all was well after his first day throwing again, and that his timeline is “as fast as possible.”
With Wilson out, the Yankees will likely rely more heavily on veteran scrap-heap find Lucas Luetge, as well as increased roles for the likes of Cessa and Jonathan Loaisiga. The Yankees can probably withstand the loss of Zack Britton, but a long-term loss of both Britton and Wilson would sting. They’ll need to monitor Wilson’s throwing program and keep him well-rested as opposed to rushing him back, if they want to keep their envisioned bullpen intact.
With Britton out until June or July, the Yankees will want to lean on Wilson as their primary left-handed middle reliever once he returns. He has always been durable throughout his career, but the Yankees just hope that his age-33 season isn’t the beginning of the end of that trend.
Signing Wilson was a reasonable move by Brian Cashman. As long as his shoulder tightness is nothing more than a blip on the radar, he should be a solid contributor to the team’s revamped bullpen in 2021.