The Royals face off this evening against the Los Angeles Angels Of Anaheim, sending James Shields to the hill for the first time since an uneven Wild Card game performance. The Angels will counter with C.J. Wilson, who is perhaps best known for being that pretty okay pitcher in Texas an indeterminate number of years ago.
Well, truth be told, he's been pretty okay since then, posting ERAs of 3.83 and 3.39 in 2012 and 2013 respectively. This season, however, he has become a bit more hittable, in addition to seeing his walk rate jump above four batter per nine innings. He's never been a truly dominant guy, with a career WHIP of 1.33. He will give up base runners, which would presumably feed into the Royals offensive strategy of putting the ball in play.
For his career, Wilson is 4-0 against Kansas City with a 3.20 ERA in seventeen games (seven starts). In 2014, he made two starts against the Royals, once in May, and once again in June. In his first start, he gave up four hits, walked four batters, and struck out only three batters in 6.1 innings, yet yielded a solitary run in a 6-3 Royals loss.
In June, he pitched pretty much the same game, walking four and striking out three, but he yielded seven hits and four runs in just 3.2 innings. The Angels managed to hang on and win 5-4. For the year, Wilson is 1-0 against the Royals with a 4.50 ERA in ten innings, with eight walks, six strikeouts, and eleven hits for a 1.90 WHIP.
So, it would be fair to say that the Royals have done pretty well against Wilson this season, even if the ultimate result of winning games hasn't been accomplished.
On the year, C.J. Wilson sports a 4.51 ERA, which is more or less in line with his FIP (4.31), amounting to a difference of a smattering of runs over the year. He did not pitch more than 200 innings for the first time since 2009, the year before he became a full-time starting pitcher. It is the highest full-season ERA of his career, and while he has tried to stay ahead of hitters by revamping his pitch selection, the effectiveness of such an effort remains a question.
One of the things that made him so effective in Texas was his ability to limit home runs, amassing HR/FB% numbers of 5.3% and 8.2% in his two full years of being a starting pitcher for the Rangers. Though he managed to limit home runs in 2013, in 2012 he gave up an averageish 10.8%, and this year it expanded to 11.3%.
His pitch selection has evolved over his five full seasons as a starter. In his first three seasons as a starter, he threw about 67% fastballs between his four-seam and cutter. The past two years, however, he has thrown just about 60% fastballs. Last year, it was because he started throwing more sliders and curveballs. This season, he cut into those numbers and threw more changeups, but he is predominantly a fastball/breaking ball pitcher and this year threw a changeup a little over 10% of the time. His average fastball velocity this season was 90.8, which is about a mile off of his career high as a starter in 2012 (91.7). 90.8 used to be a good number. 90.8 used to be a number that a pitcher could make a career out of as a 22 year-old. In today's environment, it is well below average. In 2007, the first year that velocity data is available through Pitchf/x, the average major league fastball velocity was 91.1. This season, it was 92.1.
So, how do the Royals beat C.J. Wilson? Truth be told he is a fairly ideal matchup for them. He is prone to giving up base runners. The Royals are pretty good at making contact, save for perhaps Salvador Perez and Omar Infante the past three months. Right-handed batters have crushed Wilson this year to the tune of a .345 wOBA and a .273/.365/.409 triple slash. Lefties, on the other hand, are hitting just .198/.304/.268. So, if the Royals were interested in playing that game, Josh Willingham and Christian Colon would be starting, with Butler moving to first and Hosmer plus Moustakas on the bench. That won't happen, though, because you don't sit the two guys who have won the last two games for you. And I'm kind of okay with that. But still...
Another thing of note is how poorly Wilson has pitched on the road this year. His ERA at home has been a productive 3.82 in 94.1 innings. He walks fewer batters at home and gives up a .247/.324/.348 triple slash in Anaheim. On the road, however, he gives up a .263/.373/.404 mark with a 5.31 ERA, and did so in 81.1 innings.
Wilson represents the Royals best shot, by the numbers, of taking this series and moving on to the ALCS. The Angels have announced Weaver on short rest for Game 4, and the Royals have semi-confirmed Jeremy Guthrie for that game. Game 5 would likely be Matt Shoemaker versus Jason Vargas, and I am not particularly sure that I like the odds of Vargas throwing six more solid innings against the Angels.
If the Royals have another crowd like they did for the Wild Card game, though, I don't see how the Angels will make it out of Kansas City with two victories to push the series back to Anaheim for a decisive Game 5.
SONIC SLAM UPDATE. A SLAMDATE, IF YOU WILL:
Andy McCullough, the Kansas City Royals beat writer for the Kansas City Star, is under the impression that a decision has been made on the Royals' potential game 5 starter:
If the Angels force Game 5, Yordano Ventura would start for the Royals.— Andy McCullough (@McCulloughStar) October 5, 2014
Good news for people who love good news.