Dec 8, 2011 was a dark day for Texas Rangers fans. Their biggest division rival had signed not only the greatest player of his generation, but the ace of their second run to the pennant and a key part of their prior run, C.J. Wilson.
There was some moaning about the Rangers' loss of their best pitcher, but by the time the season began, Wilson had become something of public enemy No. 1. Partly because of his lack-luster performance in the postseason, where he had an ERA just under six and failed to win a game.
It was also partly because of fun parting gifts like tweeting Mike Napoli's phone number, burning bridges with a flame thrower.
There was some hope -- not just because of the team he was pitching for -- that Wilson would fall to pieces in 2012. Unfortunately -- or fortunately if you still love the guy -- that has not been the case.
The season may be still young, but so far it looks like Wilson is the same pitcher who might well have deserved Cy Young votes a year ago.
The ERA has improved, first of all, though a change from Arlington to Anaheim will do that for you. Meanwhile, everything there is to look at for a pitcher this earl in the season is right in line with his 2011 performance.
His fly ball rate has fallen from 31.9% to 31%. His line drive rate has fallen from 18.9% to 17.7%. His ground ball rate has risen from 49.3% to 51.3%. And his strikeout rate has risen from 22.5% to 23.1%. These are all technically improvements, but very tiny improvements. The result is a Fielding Independent Pitching ERA that is almost exactly what it looked like at the end of last year (3.24 to 3.23).
Which may be both frustrating and boring. There is no drop off. No "glad we didn't sign him!" or "good luck with that Angels!" And at the same time, there is no "wow, didn't expect he could be that good" since he was already that good.
The Angels got exactly what the Rangers lost: a very good pitcher.
Albeit possibly a more insufferable one (outside of the whole "being very good" thing). His rate on swinging strikes has actually dropped, suggesting even more difficulty at putting people away, and he's taking two more seconds between every pitch. Ceej was good, but when he couldn't get those whiffs and when he was taking his sweet time, he could be very hard to watch. I'm sure Angels fans don't care much about that, of course.
There's a reason not really to miss Wilson, though. It has nothing to do with his playoff performances; those were just bad games that came at the wrong time, not a testament to talent. It also has nothing to do with his annoying tweets, since no one would care about those if he were pitching well for the home team.
It has to do with Yu Darvish. As good as Wilson has been, Darvish has been better. Darvish strikes out more batters, misses a ton more bats, and does a better job at keeping the ball in the park. Though, if I'm going to pick on Wilson's pace, I should point out Darvish is even slower.
He also walks more people than Wilson, but the results overall have been ever so slightly superior in the young season, with both a better ERA (2.54 to 2.61) and better FIP (3.20 to 3.23). And he's getting just $5.5 million this year compared to Wilson's 10.
Of course, that's a tiny difference, but the point is that the Rangers aren't missing the performance of C.J. Wilson right now, because the guy they threw money at instead has been just as good, if not better. Most importantly, the Angels have Wilson at an age where his decline should be beginning, while the Rangers have Darvish at an age where he should just be hitting his prime. Los Angeles will be paying Wilson until he's 35, while Texas gets this Japanese wizard until he's 30.
The Rangers will face a tough pitcher when they kick-off the AL West's biggest rivalry on Friday, but the Angels won't have it any easier. And with each passing year, that will be more and more true for LA, and less and less true for Texas.