By Chad Jennings
The Yankees had too many catchers and not enough left-handed relievers. They changed that last night. You already know all about Francisco Cervelli — high energy, good numbers for a backup catcher, strong reputation with the staff — but here’s a little bit about new lefty Justin Wilson.
The Pirates made him a fifth-round pick back in 2008 and he worked mostly as a starter in the minor leagues. He’s been strictly a reliever in the majors. Wilson got his first taste of the big leagues in 2012 (only eight games, most of them in September) but he really established himself with a 1.06 WHIP through 58 appearances in 2013. This year he was back in the Pirates bullpen where his WHIP was up a little bit, but so were his strikeouts. He just turned 27 in August.
Wilson’s arsenal is built on his fastball, which averages well into the mid-90s. He throws some version of that fastball most of the time, and he pairs it with a cutter or slider, depending on what you want to call it. “It’s a mixture cutter/slider,” Pirates catcher Chris Stewart said. “He calls it a cutter, but sometimes it gets bigger than that.” He has swing-and-miss stuff with more than a strikeout per inning this season.
Although he immediately jumps to the top of the Yankees left-on-left pecking order, Wilson is not strictly a specialist. In his career, he’s actually held right-handed hitters to a slightly lower OPS than left-handed hitters (.609 for righties; .617 for lefties). Reverse splits are true not only for his career, but also specifically for this past season when lefties hit .253/.314/.367 and righties hit just .201/.324/.299.
Having played his first full big league season in 2013, Wilson still has one year before he reaches arbitration. That means he’s under team control for four seasons — basically his age 27, 28, 29 and 30 seasons. With Matt Thornton traded away, the Yankees have no obvious lefty for their bullpen, but Wilson clearly fits that role at the moment. With Wilson, the Yankees don’t have to go after a free agent lefty and they don’t have to rush one of their young guys. “Power arm,” Stewart said. “Can be erratic at times, (but) when he’s one, pretty dominating. He’ll be a good addition to their bullpen.”