Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon

news

MLB News

Wilson doesn't fill traditional lefty mold

Reliever fits in with Tigers, who prefer 'pen to be versatile
MLB.com @beckjason

DETROIT -- The Tigers spent a good portion of the Winter Meetings gauging interest in left-hander Justin Wilson as the relief market heated up. Yet with Wilson pitching more effectively against right-handed batters than lefties this past season, he's not a traditional left-handed reliever. Then again, the Tigers haven't viewed him as a traditional lefty anyway.

For his career, Wilson has limited right-handed batters to a .215 average and .618 OPS, compared to a .254 average and .661 OPS against left-handed hitters. He has had reverse splits in each of his four full Major League seasons, the strongest difference coming this past season.

DETROIT -- The Tigers spent a good portion of the Winter Meetings gauging interest in left-hander Justin Wilson as the relief market heated up. Yet with Wilson pitching more effectively against right-handed batters than lefties this past season, he's not a traditional left-handed reliever. Then again, the Tigers haven't viewed him as a traditional lefty anyway.

For his career, Wilson has limited right-handed batters to a .215 average and .618 OPS, compared to a .254 average and .661 OPS against left-handed hitters. He has had reverse splits in each of his four full Major League seasons, the strongest difference coming this past season.

"I wouldn't look at Wilson as a lefty-lefty [matchup] guy," manager Brad Ausmus said last week. "Wilson really is a back-end reliever. He's really better against righties. I mean, they're kind of apples and oranges."

Because of the Tigers' philosophy on lefty relief, though, he might have more appeal in Detroit than he does for other clubs looking for a lefty to complete a bullpen in their own mold.

Video: CWS@DET: Wilson pitches Anderson into a double play

"I think historically we've always done it this way," general manager Al Avila said. "We've never really liked relievers that were one-dimensional, even back to Jim Leyland's days [as manager], and Brad is the same. We like relievers that can pitch against both righties and lefties. Now, there are some guys that are better one way or the other, but we'd rather have a guy that can go in there and get through the inning than bring in a guy just to face one batter. That's always been our preference.

"Even in the Minor Leagues, when we were bringing up a guy, can he pitch through the entire inning, whether it be a righty or a lefty?"

The Tigers have had late-inning relievers who threw left-handed but weren't necessarily traditional lefty relievers, though they usually had effective numbers against batters from that side. Phil Coke had several longer outings his first season in Detroit in 2010 before settling into a more traditional left-handed role once Joaquin Benoit and Octavio Dotel arrived. Jamie Walker was a do-everything reliever his first few years as a Tiger before becoming the primary lefty behind the late-inning trio of Todd Jones, Joel Zumaya and Fernando Rodney in 2006. Tim Byrdak was dominant against left-handed hitters in 2007, but averaged more than an inning per appearance.

Wilson had just three one-batter outings and four two-batter assignments among his 66 appearances in 2016. By comparison, 50 of his appearances lasted three outs or longer. With a .308 batting average allowed to left-handed hitters, Wilson had little appeal in a short-outing scenario unless he had strong numbers against a specific batter -- or that batter had specific struggles against left-handed pitching.

By comparison, fellow Tigers lefty Kyle Ryan faced one batter in seven of his 56 appearances, and had five other two-batter outings. Ryan completed three outs in 35 of his outings. In many situations, Ryan was the shorter lefty used in middle innings to set up Wilson for a spot later in a game. Blaine Hardy, who pitched in just 21 games in Detroit in 2016, was more a long reliever who throws left-handed.

While Wilson has been tied in talks with plenty of teams, no deal has materialized. On Thursday, USA Today's Bob Nightgengale reported that talks with the Cubs had broken off, with both teams moving on.

If the Tigers end up trading Wilson, they won't necessarily replace him with another lefty. Instead, they could lean on right-handers like Bruce Rondon -- who was way more stingy against lefty hitters -- and Alex Wilson in late-inning situations while counting on Ryan and Hardy from the left side.

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Detroit Tigers, Justin Wilson