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What to expect from Alex Wilson

Can Wilson replace one of the “electric dudes?”

Detroit Tigers v Minnesota Twins Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

The optimism coming into this season surrounding Milwaukee had a whole lot to do with having one of the most dominant bullpens in baseball. But with two thirds of the “electric dudes” being sidelined for who knows how long, those sanguine feelings have taken a hit. In an effort to offset those losses and to build more depth, the Brewers have been in discussions with future Hall of Famer, Craig Kimbrel, signed Josh Fields to a minor league contract, and signed Alex Wilson to join the major league squad. Can Alex Wilson step up and replace Jeremy Jeffress and/or Corey Knebel?

Alex Wilson recently finalized his contract with the Brew Crew, signing for 1-year, $750,000 with performance bonus potential that could get him to $850,000. The 32 year old spent the past four years with the Detroit Tigers, and is entering his seventh season as a major leaguer. Alex Wilson relies on five pitches. He began throwing the cutter (slider) a lot more in 2018 (53.5%). In addition he throws a 2-seam sinking fastball (28.1%), 4-seam fastball generally up in the zone (13.8%) and occasionally mixes in a curve and change up.

Wilson is another pitcher in the Brewers’ bullpen that relies heavily on the two-seam sinking fastball as well as the cutter. After a tough stretch, Wilson decided to employ his cutter more a la Wade Miley, and he found better results. In fact, he found that hitters were hitting below .200 on that cutter. Increasing its usage even more as a Brewer is something we should expect to see.

Wilson is obviously open to performance feedback coming from analytics. He is likely to see more of it in Milwaukee. He is also open to pitching in any situation. If asked to be an “opener,” middle reliever, or a late inning reliever, he will take the ball whenever it is handed to him. He is also willing to toe the rubber a lot, and over multiple days in a row.

The newest member of the Brewers’ bullpen likes to create an “X” effect by deploying his cutter moving one way and the two-seamer moving another. He throws the four-seamer up to change eye level and late in counts to get swing and misses, although strikeouts are not his forte.

It is uncomfortable that he doesn’t strike out a lot of hitters. His career K/9 is 5.98. Josh Hader he is not. Yet he just seems to get it done, and he “got it done” more regularly in 2018 more than ever had before before. Wilson induces a lot of ground balls, including a 49.2% grounder rate last season. He does not walk people (6.1% BB% in 2018). Last year’s numbers are just solid (3.36 ERA and 1.05 WHIP), and his adjustments (greater use of the cutter and decreased use of the 4-seam) may be indicative of reliever performance that is solid to good, or at least good for the time being. The league will adjust to the enhanced usage of cutters across the league at some point. To illustrate, Wilson’s WHIP in 2016 was 1.22 and it was 1.37 in 2017. The drop in WHIP to 1.05 in 2018 even after a tough start to the season are evidence the adjustments worked. Below we can see how Wilson adjusted between 2017 and 2018 with pitch mix:

One thing to put into perspective is how Wilson performs in high leverage situations. According to Fangraphs, he pitched in 11 high leverage innings in 2018. The slash against him in those situations was .250/.333/.457. Compare 2018 high leverage situations to that of the relievers he is supposed to replace. Corey Knebel pitched in what constituted 16 innings of high leverage work. The slash against him in those situations was .177/.311/.235. Jeremy Jeffress pitched 25.2 innings worth of high leverage situations, and he held opposnents to an amazing .122/.228/.175 batting line in those scenarios. Add in Josh Hader who pitched in 23.1 innings worth of high leverage situations with a slash of .167/.238/.325 allowed. All small sample sizes, of course, but worth keeping in mind when we muse on who could fill the “closer” role early on.

Alex Wilson is not going to join the “electric dudes,” but he will likely be a solid addition who keeps the ball on the ground, throws strikes, and generally “gets the job done.” He may be tasked with filling some high leverage situations, although those opportunities will likely be spread around early on.

Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball Savant