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C.J. Wilson - The tale of two starts

Within a couple of weeks, Angels' starter C.J. Wilson threw two games that were very similar, with one difference -- one was a spectacular win, while the other was a frustrating loss.

Who are you? And what are you doing with my wife?
Who are you? And what are you doing with my wife?
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

C.J. Wilson is one of the most frustrating players on the Angels' roster.  It seems like he has the potential to be one of the best pitchers in baseball, but he frequently pitches like a #4 pitcher on a weak team.  He's the pitcher who sometimes frustrates us fans with his 100-pitch, 5 inning outings, or he'll toss a one-hitter over 7 spectacular innings.

And that's why I'm frustrated.

How is it Wilson can pitch a game such as last night's, and then pitch a game like the one August 28th?  Sure, unless your name is Clayton Kershaw, we shouldn't expect a dominating outing every time out.  Heck, even Kershaw throws a bummer game every couple of years, but when looking at Wilson's stats for these two games, it makes me wonder what the hell is going on with the Halo lefty.

On August 28th, Wilson faced the Oakland A's in Anaheim.  He threw 98 pitches on the night, leaving the game after getting two outs in the 6th inning with the game tied at 3 run apiece.  Wilson gave up seven hits, walked 3, and struck out two, and also surrendered a home run to lefty killer Josh Donaldson.  Of the 98 pitches thrown, 56 were strikes, and of those 56, 17 were first-pitch strikes to the 25 batters he faced.

During his gem tossed on September 17th against Seattle, Wilson allowed just one hit over seven innings.  Although he did walk three batters, he struck out 7 and kept the Seattle hitters off balance while he was in the game.  Wilson threw 95 pitches, 58 for strikes.  He also faced 25 batter in this outing, getting first-pitch strikes 14 times.  The one hit allowed was a weak liner to center in the 5th inning by Justin Smoak.

The similarities of the two games are striking; He faced 25 batters in both, threw roughly the same number of pitches, was slightly better starting each at bat with a strike in the Oakland game, and threw more strike overall in the Seattle game.  So why were the outcomes so different?

One possible reason could be the batters faced.  Oakland is third in the league (behind the Angels and Tigers) in runs scored, while Seattle is in the lower half, slightly more than .5 run per game worse than the A's.  Oakland has scored 206 runs and slashed .242/.313/.380 off of left-handed starters, compared to the 176 runs and .242/.291/.344 of the Mariners.  Obviously, Oakland has the more potent offense.

Yet, how do we account for the three terrible games Wilson pitched against the Astros this season.  In four starts against Houston, Wilson has given up 1, 5, 6, and 5 earned runs.  He's also allowed 4+ runs nine times this season, to teams including the Twins, Royals, and Mariners.

Here are the numbers from Wilson's September 17th seven inning one-hitter.  Besides the odd fact that his sinker is thrown with more velocity than his fastball, nothing really stands out.

September 17, 2014 at home vs Seattle
Pitch Type Velo (Max) H-Break V-Break Count Strikes / % Swings / % Whiffs / % BIP (No Out)
FA (Fastball) 91.7 (93.2) 5.2 8.89 30 22 / 73.3% 12 / 40.0% 1 / 3.3% 8 (1)
SI (Sinker) 92.1 (93.6) 9.93 6.13 14 9 / 64.3% 4 / 28.6% 0 / 0.0% 1 (0)
CH (Changeup) 86.6 (87.0) 8.82 7.56 3 1 / 33.3% 1 / 33.3% 1 / 33.3% 0 (0)
SL (Slider) 83.1 (85.0) -1.48 0.51 8 5 / 62.5% 5 / 62.5% 4 / 50.0% 1 (0)
CU (Curveball) 77.1 (79.0) -5.12 -4.93 29 15 / 51.7% 13 / 44.8% 8 / 27.6% 2 (0)
FC (Cutter) 88.0 (90.2) 0.62 4.54 11 6 / 54.5% 4 / 36.4% 0 / 0.0% 3 (0)

Here are the numbers from the game on August 28th.  Other then his sinker once again being faster than his fastball, the numbers look pretty normal.  However when we compare the two outing with each other, most of the numbers are pretty much the same.  The velocities are almost exact and pitch movement are consistent.  The only difference I can see are the types of pitches thrown.  During last night's game, Wilson threw just 3 change-ups compared to 20 against Seattle, and he threw half as many sinkers to the Oakland batters.  That's a pretty significant difference in pitch selection.  By the way, Chris Iannetta caught both games in case you were wondering if that could account for which types of pitches were thrown.

Here are the numbers from the Oakland game:

August 28, 2014 at home vs Oakland
Pitch Type Velo (Max) H-Break V-Break Count Strikes / % Swings / % Whiffs / % BIP (No Out)
FA (Fastball) 91.0 (92.2) 5.11 9.29 39 27 / 69.2% 13 / 33.3% 0 / 0.0% 10 (4)
SI (Sinker) 92.0 (92.8) 10.45 5.26 7 5 / 71.4% 4 / 57.1% 0 / 0.0% 2 (1)
CH (Changeup) 85.3 (86.6) 8.21 7.37 20 9 / 45.0% 6 / 30.0% 1 / 5.0% 5 (1)
SL (Slider) 83.2 (83.5) -1.4 -0.26 2 2 / 100.0% 1 / 50.0% 0 / 0.0% 0 (0)
CU (Curveball) 77.8 (79.6) -4.44 -3.85 17 7 / 41.2% 6 / 35.3% 0 / 0.0% 1 (0)
FC (Cutter) 87.8 (89.1) 1.24 5.06 13 6 / 46.2% 3 / 23.1% 1 / 7.7% 2 (1)

I'm not going to pretend to know what all of this means.  In fact, I find some of this absolutely confusing, such as, why does Wilson's fastball have more of a vertical break then his sinker?  Why is his sinker faster then his fastball?  The only thing I see that could be a possible solution to Wilson's inconsistency is he might want to throw a few less change-ups and a few more sinkers his next time out.

Anyway, I'm presenting this data in the hopes that we as a group can decipher it to possibly find some answers as to why Wilson is such a frustrating pitcher.