When the Detroit Tigers sent right handed pitcher Rick Porcello to the Boston Red Sox last December, Alex Wilson barely got a mention as being one of the three players headed back to Detroit in the trade. Yoenis Cespedes was understandably the big name that the Tigers acquired in the trade, although Wilson had some pretty good numbers while working in relief for the Red Sox the previous season.
Wilson had averaged just 28 innings in each of the 2013 and 2014 seasons with Boston, posting an ERA of 1.91 with a WHIP of 0.88 the previous season, but a fielding independent pitching percentage that was two full runs higher at 3.91, leading one to wonder whether there was a dose of good fortune in those statistics. On paper, the Tigers might have gotten themselves some much needed bullpen help, but that did not appear to be the case when the team broke camp at the start of the 2015 season without Wilson on the roster.
Wilson began the 2015 season pitching in relief for the Toledo Mud Hens, earning three saves in 5-1/3 innings of work without allowing a run, and yielding just one walk. He was quickly called up to Detroit in April and became a mainstay in the Tigers bullpen all season long. Wilson led all Tigers relief pitchers in innings pitched and posted sparkling numbers once again while working in the league's worst bullpen.
Wilson is not a big strikeout artist, being one of just two relief pitchers in the American league to work at least 50 innings with a ratio of fewer than five strikeouts per nine innings. He also led all Tigers' relief pitchers and ranked sixth in the league with a BB/9 ratio of 1.41. When combined with a very respectable home run ratio and a ground ball percentage above 50 per cent, Wilson was able to keep opposing teams off the scoreboard better than any of his team mates, ranking among the top ten relief pitchers in the league in ERA- again with a minimum of 50 innings of work.
Manager Brad Ausmus first used Wilson in lower leverage situations, earning just one hold during the first half of the season. Once Joba Chamberlain and Tom Gorzelanny were removed from the bullpen, Wilson began to get work in later innings on a regular basis. Inexplicably, Ausmus used Neftali Feliz and Bruce Rondon in ninth inning situations although Wilson was clearly the better pitcher, but at least he was being used in higher leverage situations for the last several weeks of the season.
A throw-in in the initial Cespedes trade, Wilson surprised in the best way possible. He didn't make the team out of spring training but was called up when the bullpen began imploding. He remained with the Tigers for the rest of the season serving in every capacity needed. For large portions of the year, Wilson was used in a long relief role, much to the chagrin of many who rightfully thought his talents were being wasted once he proved he could hold his own. Wilson made a spot start and even served as the team's closer for a time. He was one of the bright spots in the midst of a flaming bullpen.
Expectations for 2016
With a bullpen that needs four or five new pitchers based on how they performed in 2015, Alex Wilson is one of two relief pitchers, Blaine Hardy being the other, who should be locks to return in 2016 and play a prominent role. Wilson was the Tigers' most consistent relief pitcher in 2015, and while that's not saying much, his numbers stack up when compared with any reliever in the game. The Tigers are likely to find a closer and probably a set up man from outside the organization this winter, but Wilson can be trusted on the mound when the game is on the line. They need half a dozen more like him.