When I took my first crack at the Cubs’ NLDS roster, I had assumed they’d go with 12 pitchers and that Justin Wilson would get the nod over Justin Grimm because he’s a lefty and doesn’t give up homers. Even though Wilson is a pretty solid reverse-split guy, his handedness means he may be able to flummox Dusty Baker into a poor decision or three. But that’s not the only reason the former Tiger made the roster.
With the Cubs opting to carry only 11 pitchers, it was at least mildly surprising that Wilson made it over Hector Rondon. My initial thought, in addition to the strategery [sic] angle, was that this may have been a display of hubris on the Cubs’ part. One of those “We made a big trade for him and he’s gonna make the playoff roster, by God” moves. Except that’s that really the style of this front office.
And make no mistake, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have their fingerprints on this group of 25. Not that it took much doing, considering that Wilson, Rondon, and Leonys Martin were really the only guys in question. You could maybe throw John Lackey in with that group, but it was pretty clear that he was going to make it.
The answer comes in part from Wilson’s mind-boggling 17.5 K/9 against left-handed hitters since the deadline trade that brought him to Chicago.
With that in mind, we turn to the rationale for including a man who has posted a 9.68 BB/9 as a Cub and who fares better against righties to face a lineup with tons of left-handed thunder. The answer comes in part from Wilson’s mind-boggling 17.5 K/9 against left-handed hitters since the deadline trade that brought him to Chicago. And he’s posted 15.9 K/9 against lefties on the season, so the more recent mark isn’t really a flukey stat.
But if you’re wondering whether the Cubs would really roster Wilson based on a 76-batter sample that seems too small to be reliable, get ready to have your mind blown. According to we heard from Theo Epstein on Thursday, they may have been looking at Wilson’s performance in six plate appearances by a single Nationals hitter.
Daniel Murphy is a name that sours the stomachs of Cubs fans for various reasons, the most notorious of which is his performance against them in the 2015 NLCS. Previously a light-hitting infielder who’d registered 50 dingers in 3,619 plate appearances with the Mets, Murphy went nuts against the Cubs to the tune of 9-for-17 (.529) with four home runs, six runs batted in and six runs scored. He parlayed that success into a big payday and has turned into an MVP-level offensive threat with the Nats, which I don’t think many people saw coming.
The second baseman is one of the biggest threats in a lineup full of them and getting him out will be a priority for Cubs pitching. Which is where Wilson’s very limited experience in facing Murphy comes into play.
“We watched his at-bats against Daniel Murphy,” Epstein explained on 670 The Score’s Spiegel and Parkins Show. “I think he’s, Murphy’s 0-for-6* with three punch-outs against Wilson. [We] tried to figure out, you know, are there scenarios where that would be helpful, given the fact that Murphy’s someone who’s given us fits over the years? So those are some of the considerations with Wilson”
[We] tried to figure out, you know, are there scenarios where that would be helpful, given the fact that Murphy’s someone who’s given us fits over the years?
It sounds kinda nuts, but consider that these games may come down to infinitesimal leverage points that swing the outcome one way or the other. Not that any Cubs fan wants a game to hang in the balance of a Wilson/Murphy face-off, but Epstein stated pretty plainly that the lefty could be there for just such a situation.
More than just a handful of evidence culled from that specific matchup, though, it’s the performance driving the limited results that the Cubs are looking at. Wilson’s fastball has all kinds of life and his ceiling is certainly much higher Rondon’s. And hearkening back to the point I made above, the lefty could cause Baker to take countermeasures that would actual work to the Cubs’ favor.
There’s no denying that this is a serious gamble, albeit one the Cubs think can pay off for them. Just don’t expect me to draw a breath if Wilson is on the mound with the game’s outcome even moderately in question.
*7/13/13 – K (looking)
6/27/14 – K (swinging)
6/29/14 – Lineout (SS)
9/9/15 – BB
5/10/16 – K (swinging)
8/5/17 – Foul pop (3B)