Justin Wilson has flown under the radar in Indianapolis, with a 2.27 ERA in 8 starts in Indianapolis. Is he a pitcher who can help the major league team, perhaps by late June?
Wilson had another great start yesterday (May 17) against the Buffalo Bisons. He went 5.2 innings and allowed only two hits (both singles), to go with four walks and four strikeouts. He also had nine groundouts to three flyouts, which is a very good ratio.
Overall this season, he's went 47.2 innings, and given up only 33 hits, with 34 strikeouts and 23 walks. He's had a .193 batting average against.
There are some areas for concern. The walk rate is at 4.07 BB/9, which is the lowest of his career. He is always going to walk some guys, but that in itself won't prevent him from being a decent starting pitcher. Wilson's command is better than his control. He is able to paint the corners, which is why the hit rate is so low. From watching him in Altoona last season twice, he won't throw a gimme down the middle like, for example, Jeff Karstens or 2010 Charlie Morton. Not serving up meatballs keeps his hit rate down.
The strikeout rate is what it is. At 6.43 K/9, he isn't overpowering. He can live with that in the back of the rotation, since he is left-handed. His K-rate last season was 8.45, so he might just be getting unlucky. The strikeouts might increase through time, since he doesn't have bad stuff, sitting around 90-92 MPH. Others have seen more velocity, albeit in relief outings.
One of Wilson's best attributes last season was keeping the ball in the park. In 142.2 innings in 2010 with Altoona, he only allowed four home runs. That's outstanding anti-home run work. In 2011, though, he has allowed the same four home runs with Indianapolis, in only 47.2 innings. That's still pretty good, but not the same as 2010. What drove a lot of the 2010 home-run success was a strong groundball rate. In 2010, he had a 1.65 groundball/flyball ratio. In 2011, he's had a 0.89 GB/FB. The good news is that his last two starts have been groundball-heavy, so he might be turning the corner there.
Can the Juice be loose in Pittsburgh? My biggest reservation would be the ground balls. If he shows he can pound the ground for a few more starts, I'd find a spot for him in Pittsburgh.
It's not breaking news that Jeff Karstens isn't a good pitcher. His yearly Wins Above Replacement totals the past four seasons: 0.3, 0.1, 0.4, and 0.0. Despite doing a decent job filling in for Ross Ohlendorf, Karstens has been a shade above replacement level since forever. He gives up way too many bombs. If the Pirates think they can do better through the farm, they should try. The injured Ross Ohlendorf is slightly more productive than Karstens, but not by much. I wouldn't worry if Ohlendorf lost his rotation spot at this point. Also, Paul Maholm could be traded, opening another space in August. Either way, I'd expect Wilson to make his major-league debut in this calendar year.
Wilson hasn't answered all of his questions, but he's done almost enough to get into the Pirates' somewhat weak rotation.