Plenty of former starters transition to the bullpen and find success firing in shorter stints. Last year, C.J. Wilson made the much more difficult move from the 'pen to the rotation look easy, topping 200 innings pitched while helping the Rangers reach the World Series.
Wilson has performed even better during his free agent walk year in 2011. His strikeout rate is up, his walks are down, and he has shaved a half-run off his fielding independent ERA:
2010: 7.5 K/9, 4.1 BB/9, 3.56 Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP)
2011: 8.1 K/9, 3.03 BB/9, 3.06 FIP
The 30-year-old lefty's improvement, coupled with the paucity of other top-level starters on the market, has MLBTradeRumors' Tim Dierkes predicting that Wilson could land a $100 million contract this winter. Teams interested in adding Wilson can take heart in the fact that he has done a better job of keeping right-handed batters off base in 2011, thanks to the effectiveness of his cutter and his slider.
In 2010, Wilson allowed righties to reach base at a .333 clip that was above the .325 league average for left-handed pitchers versus righty batters. This year, Wilson is holding opposite-handed hitters to a .292 OBP (.328 league average).
As you might expect, Wilson is issuing fewer walks versus righties (under eight percent in 2011, compared to nearly 12 percent last year). But, rather than throwing many more pitches over the plate, he has cut his rate of free passes issued to righties by getting batters to chase more of his high-80s cutters and sliders out of the strike zone.
Take a look at right-handers' swing rate by pitch location against Wilson's cutters and sliders in 2010, compared to 2011:
Righties chased about 28 percent of Wilson's cutters/sliders last year, well below the 37 percent league average for right-handers versus lefty pitching. This season, though, Wilson is getting righties to go after 38 percent of his cutters and sliders.
Wilson already owns same-handed hitters (.287 OBP against from 2010-2011). Should he maintain most of his gains against righties, he might just be worth a nine-figure investment.