The Pirates have a barren minor league system, mostly devoid of impact talent. The Major League team has won less than 70 games in three consecutive seasons. The majority of the team’s offense is made up of average players in their prime who will be eligible for free agency in two or three years. General Manager Neal Huntington is new to the organization, with fresh plans to rebuild the farm system. It is obvious that several starters could be on their way out in the next year or so. I would like to examine the pros and cons of dealing each of these players. Here are my thoughts on trading Xavier Nady and Jason Bay. Today we will look at Jack Wilson.
It is interesting to examine Pirate fans’ perceptions of Jack Wilson. The casual fan looks at Wilson as the face of the franchise, a good ballplayer with a slick glove that lays everything on the line for the good of the team. Many statistically minded fans see him as a less than mediocre hitter who, while above average defensively, is more concerned with getting dirty than actually catching the baseball. I will not go too deeply into my own personal views on Wilson (although I am not one to question his effort between the lines), but instead I will focus on his appropriate value to the team.
There is no question that Wilson has been an offensive hole in the Pirates’ lineup for most of his career. He rarely walks, has little power and does not hit for a high enough average to compensate for those deficiencies. Here are his career stats:
2001: .223/.255/.295, 390 AB, 17 2B, 1 3B, 3 HR, 70 K, 16 BB, .187 EQA
2002: .252/.306/.332, 527 AB, 22 2B, 4 3B, 4 HR, 74 K, 37 BB, .228 EQA
2003: .256/.303/.353, 558 AB, 21 2B, 3 3B, 9 HR, 74 K, 36 BB, .230 EQA
2004: .308/.335/.459, 652 AB, 41 2B, 12 3B, 11 HR, 71 K, 26 BB, .268 EQA
2005: .257/.299/.363, 587 AB, 24 2B, 7 3B, 8 HR, 58 K, 31 BB, .234 EQA
2006: .273/.316/.370, 543 AB, 27 2B, 1 3B, 8 HR, 65 K, 33 BB, .242 EQA
2007: .296/.350/.440, 477 AB, 29 2B, 2 3B, 12 HR, 46 K, 38 BB, .276 EQA
Entering this past season, most considered 2004 as an outlier year for Wilson. Take that season away, and his yearly stats are very similar. The real Jack Wilson appeared to be the one that annually posted an EQA between .228 and .242. As the 2007 season moved into its second half, nothing was different. Wilson was hitting .252/.303/.342 at the end of July, and the Pirates unsuccessfully attempted to trade their shortstop before the deadline. However, when a potential deal with Detroit fell through on the final day of the month, Jack suddenly came alive. He went 3 for 4 with a home run in a 15-1 rout on August 1 and never looked back. In the final two months of the season, he hit .409/.467/.697 with 14 doubles and 8 home runs. This sweltering finish left him with season numbers comparable to his All-Star year in 2004. A good fielding shortstop with above average offensive numbers is a very valuable commodity in baseball.
Now let us look at his fielding stats. Jack’s defense clearly dropped off in 2006, as he admittedly lost a step in an attempt to bulk up. Baseball Prospectus (BP) had him at only five runs above average and, at .823, he was tied for ninth out of 13 qualified NL shortstops in John Dewan’s Revised Zone Rating (RZR). He vowed a return to form in 2007, and delivered on that promise. BP had him at 21 runs above average, a career high. His RZR dropped to .816, but that was good for seventh out of 14 shortstops. In addition, his Out Of Zone (OOZ) plays increased from 48 to 76. That was second only to Troy Tulowitzki, indicating improved range.
So Wilson is above average offensively and defensively, and is relatively cheap considering the insane market the past couple of years. Also, he is a fan favorite and the Pirates do not have a suitable replacement at shortstop. Why would the Pirates consider trading him? Well, it is the opposite of the situation the team is currently facing with Jason Bay. As I mentioned last week, a few terrible months at the plate by Bay does not eliminate several excellent years he has had in the past. Keeping the same line of thinking, two spectacular months by Wilson does not make many years of mediocre hitting disappear.
Wilson is currently at his highest value. The Pirates are rebuilding and need to trade veterans at their peak. If the team holds on to him, they retain a slick-fielding veteran shortstop with the potential to be an average hitter. However, he will not be here for more than a few years. Wilson is a free agent after 2010, and has publicly stated that he plans to retire at an early age. The does not help the Pirates, who are a few years away from being a competitive ballclub. If he is dealt, yes, it opens a huge hole at shortstop. But if the Bucs are capable of acquiring a couple of decent prospects for him, that deal has to be made. The team should be looking to the future, and a few less wins in 2008 and 2009 is irrelevant if it is advantageous in the big picture.
Final Verdict: Trade (but wait for the right deal)