Bryse Wilson currently leads the Milwaukee Brewers in saves.
Wilson has picked up two saves, and it’s not because he’s getting high-leverage work. Both have come in the form of three-inning relief appearances to finish off blowout victories, including Friday night’s 11-2 romping of the Padres.
Acquired from the division-rival Pirates in January, the Brewers have designated Wilson as the low-leverage long man in their bullpen. Most of his outings have come in that capacity, and he’s done a solid job in that unglamorous role. In nine innings of work, the right-hander has posted a 1.00 ERA and 2.70 FIP, striking out nine and walking three.
Wilson has probably been closer to a league-average pitcher than his results suggest. He’s benefitted from a .250 BABIP and 90% strand rate and has seen a few well-struck fly balls stay in the yard instead of going for home runs. His 4.17 xFIP is probably a more accurate representation of his performance thus far.
That’s still a noted improvement over his numbers before coming to Milwaukee. Wilson entered this year with a career 5.54 ERA and 5.26 FIP, including a 5.52 ERA with the Pirates in 2022.
Furthermore, even if he will soon regress from his current level of success, Wilson has made encouraging changes to his pitch mix that could continue to bode well for him.
After previously using his four-seamer as his primary fastball, Wilson debuted a sinker last year and has continued to use it as his primary pitch. His four-seamer has always had a bad shape due to its natural sink, and opponents had posted a wOBA of at least .350 against it in every season of his career. The development of a sinker was necessary.
However, Wilson’s sinker has not been especially effective this year. All but one of the hits he has allowed have come against the sinker, and opponents are batting .417 with an average exit velocity of 93.1 mph against it.
What has made the greatest difference for Wilson is his slider. Statcast says he has doubled his usage of the pitch from last season to the point that he’s throwing it nearly as often as his sinker.
This is not the same slider that Wilson threw last year. His velocity has remained in line with where it was last season, but the speed of his slider has jumped by nearly four mph. After previously sitting in the mid-80s, it is now sitting in the upper 80s and touching 90.
The shape of Wilson’s slider has also changed. He has shaved half a foot of vertical break off the pitch. It’s sharper and shorter than it was last year.
Wilson isn’t throwing a slider. He’s throwing a cutter, and it’s a good one.
Wilson’s slider has always resembled a cutter more than it has a traditional breaking ball. After toying with a full-blown cutter last year, he has made the jump and made the pitch a prominent player in his arsenal.
While Statcast continues to label it as a slider, PITCHf/x is appropriately identifying the new pitch.
The cutter has played a significant role in Wilson’s early success. Opponents have not recorded a hit against it while producing an average exit velocity of just 86.6 mph.
When viewed as a slider, the pitch appears to have well below-average movement. When correctly identified as a cutter, it is among the better ones in baseball.
For reference, Corbin Burnes’ cutter averages 4.4 inches of lateral movement. Wilson’s cutter moves 4.2 inches.
That would represent average horizontal break for a slider, but it’s a more impressive amount of movement for a cutter.
The rise of the cutter is not the only change Wilson has made to his arsenal. Remember how we said his four-seamer had a bad shape due to its natural sinking action? That’s no longer the case.
Wilson has eliminated a few inches of vertical movement on his four-seamer. That means it no longer has that sinking action and now plays in the upper third of the strike zone.
Wilson still has a low-spin fastball and is not an especially hard thrower, so his four-seamer will not suddenly turn into an elite pitch. However, its improved shape enables him to change eye levels and give hitters a different look.
Wilson has hammered the upper third of the zone when throwing his four-seamer and even picked up three of his nine strikeouts with the pitch. Here he is fanning Brandon Dixon on an elevated fastball last night.
While Wilson’s results will return to earth soon, he has shown enough to continue earning looks as part of the Brewers’ pitching plans. He may still not be a flashy arm, but his modified pitch mix gives him the potential to be a quality innings eater as a multi-inning reliever and occasional spot starter.