The Yankees had to place struggling left-handed reliever Justin Wilson on the 10-day injured list on May 29 with a right hamstring strain. Fourteen days later, he is reportedly doing very well and responding to treatment, according to manager Aaron Boone, and is expected to rejoin the Yankees sometime this month.
It’s not a secret that Wilson has struggled mightily this season. As his 6.08 ERA, 1.43 WHIP and mediocre 12/6 K/BB ratio over 13 1/3 innings can attest to, things haven’t been going smoothly for the southpaw in 2021.
Boone, however, said this week that the injury had been bothering Wilson for “a few weeks”, and I can’t help but wonder whether it has heavily affected his performance. The skipper seems to think it could have affected his fastball, specifically hindering the consistency of its ride.
The injury is in Wilson’s landing leg, which can certainly affect the quality of his pitches, as it can cause him to feel hesitant about putting his body weight on the leg. In fact, if we look at a clip from a home run he allowed to Randal Grichuk a few days prior to his placement on the injured list and compare it to one from last year, the landing looks kind of odd.
Here is the 2021 video:
Randal Grichuk - Toronto Blue Jays (9) pic.twitter.com/nufTWQuSWb— MLB HR Videos (@MLBHRVideos) May 26, 2021
And here is a 2020 clip for comparison:
Justin Wilson shuts the door and the Mets defeat the Marlins, 8-4 pic.twitter.com/LRVZ2tJoT9— SNY (@SNYtv) August 9, 2020
One is a fastball and the other is a breaking ball, but it does appear that the injury may be affecting his mechanics this year. The stats sure look worse in 2021: he has a 6.08 ERA and a 6.82 FIP this year compared to 3.66 and 3.04 marks last season, respectively.
Wilson has allowed an absurd 2.70 home runs per nine innings this year after never even reaching 1.00 in his career. His four-seam fastball, the same pitch that generated a .158 batting average and a .184 slugging percentage last campaign, is getting rocked in 2021 to the tune of a .353 average and a .853 slugging percentage.
Last season, Wilson’s four-seamer averaged 94.9 mph, but this year it’s down to 93.1 mph. That home run Grichuk hit off him on May 25 came on a 92 mph heater.
There are no direct quotes from Wilson attributing his season-long troubles to the hamstring strain, but the signs – Boone’s comments, the decrease in fastball velocity and the poor performance – hint at that being the case.
The Yankees will surely monitor Wilson’s fastball velocity when he is ready to pitch in live games, and will surely hope it’s closer to his 2020 average. Getting back the best version of the lefty would be huge for the second half, giving Boone another strong option at the back end of the bullpen, allowing for even more flexibility and the providing chances to rest top arms like Aroldis Chapman and Chad Green.
There may be a roster crunch once Zack Britton and Wilson are ready to return (both should do it this month, but the former will likely be ready first, as there is talk of him coming back at some point in the weekend), but a healthy and effective Justin Wilson belongs in the Yankees’ bullpen. He will have to prove that the injury is truly behind him, and that should be the first step. After overcoming the physical issue, he will have time to work on getting his arm ready to pitch meaningful innings in the second half, just like the Yankees envisioned.
Wilson is a career 3.35-ERA pitcher with a 9.88 K/9 mark. We know he can be better than what he’s shown in 2021. Getting something closer to the pitcher Wilson’s been in recent years would be fantastic news for the Yankees, and getting clear of this hamstring ailment just could do the trick.