Saturday, March 28, 2009

Aggie Baseball In Focus: Alex Wilson

This is the first in a series of posts where I'll talk about the Aggie baseball team. They started the season ranked first by Baseball America, but have stumbled in non-conference action. After seeing them some last season, I was a little surprised to find them ranked so highly. This series will look at exactly which players are making an impact for the team and whether that will translate to success down the road.

Let's talk about Alex Wilson.

The Texas A&M junior pitcher transferred from Winthrop University before last season. However, he had Tommy John surgery previous to his transfer and redshirted for his first season (2008).

Simply put, Wilson is a strikeout machine. Last summer in the Cape Cod league, Wilson didn't have his full velocity back, but still struck out 36 batters in 29 1/3 innings. This spring, he's pitched in 37 innings and struck out 58 batters while walking 11. Twice he's struck out 14 batters in a game with just one walk in each. He does have four wild pitches on the season, but isn't particularly wild. Instead, it speaks to the movement on his pitches more than a control problem.

His numbers are sparkling, but what's troubling is his usage patterns while at Winthrop, which probably directly led to his Tommy John surgery. As a freshman, Wilson threw 138 innings in 19 starts, averaging seven innings per start but striking out 9.3 batters per 9 innings. Wilson also set a career record by striking out 16 batters against High Point. In his sophomore campaign, Wilson threw 111 innings in 16 starts, averaging 7 1/3 innings per start and striking out 97. He walked 39 batters in 2007 and 50 in 2006. His walk rate fell slightly from 2006 to 2007, but so did his strikeout total. What that suggests to me is that he was injured at some point during the 2007 season, he hurt his arm. He still went on to pitch through the conference season, raising his strikeout rate slightly but pitched sparingly in his foray into the Cape Cod League that summer.

I know nothing of the Winthrop baseball coach. I don't know how talented he is, what his background consists of or anything. I do know that Rob Childress, head coach at Texas A&M, came up as a pitching coach at Nebraska. During his time there, he produced Joba Chamberlain, another great young pitcher who has good strikeout rates and has not gotten injured as of this writing. Childress clearly has a plan to limit Wilson's pitch count and innings thrown to keep the stress on his arm to a minimum. Here is a breakdown of Wilson's first six starts as an Aggie.

  • First start: 14 strikeouts, 1 walk, 99 pitches, 6 2/3 innings
  • Second start: 9 strikeouts, 3 walks, 101 pitches, 6 innings
  • Third start: 14 strikeouts, 1 walk, 103 pitches, 6 innings
  • Fourth start: 8 strikeouts, no walks, 105 pitches, 6 1/3 innings
  • Fifth start: 6 strikeouts, 3 walks, 104 pitches, 6 2/3 innings
  • Sixth start: 9 strikeouts, 3 walks, 95 pitches, 5 1/3 innings

Two things stand out about his time as an Aggie. Already, he has struck out 14 batters -- TWICE. Each time, he only walked one batter, which is equally huge. At no time has he pitched a full seven innings, and Childress has pulled him before he tops 105 pitches. Now, the modern pitching philosophy among stat geeks is that pitchers lose performance exponentially once they cross the 100-pitch mark. I'm not sure whether this is Childress' plan, but it is a sign of a conscientious coach. Equally impressive is Wilson's walk totals. In two years at Winthrop, he averaged around 3.25 walks per 9 innings. So far at A&M, he's averaging around 2.5, which is very significant. Pitchers who pile up big strikeout numbers with no walks have a name. Number One Starter.

Wilson seems on his way to being a high draft pick if he can continue his early success. He was drafted in the 10th round by the Cubs last season but didn't sign. If he can keep up this success in 2009, he'll be drafted much higher than that this June.

I have no idea what pitches Wilson throws or whether he lights up the radar gun. I'll try and scout him at one of his next starts and write a follow-up post, but he's definitely one of the brightest young arms to come through Aggieland in quite some time.

In my next Aggie post, I'll break down the Aggie's swiss army knife player Brooks Raley, who is in his second season here. So far, he's become the Friday night starter and plays right field when not on the mound. Put aside the fact that I love his name, I'll discuss more about why his hitting makes him unusual and whether it's ultimately a liability for the Aggie team.

1 comment:

Blazer41 said...

I saw Wilson in person in '06. He was impressive, but he was not the best pitcher on the Winthrope staff. Heath Rollins was. Rollins had the same number of Ks in 15 fewer innings. As for number of innings pitched leading to injuries, I think you are barking up the wrong tree. Effectiveness may diminish, but I don't think there is a significant link to injuries UNLESS a pitcher has bad mechanics OR changes his mechanics. After pitching 138 innings in the season, Wilson needed to rest his arm. Instead, he pitched in the Cape Cod league, probably made a mechanical change and suffered the injury, or at least made it bad enough to need surgery. Limiting the pitch count on a pitcher coming back from surgery is common. Don't give your coach too much credit.