Rangers May Have Gotten Another Sam Dyson in Wilhelmsen
Sam Dyson and his refined sinker usage was a story in the Rangers’ 2nd half, and no small part of their unexpected run to the American League West pennant. During the ALDS, FanGraphs’ Jeff Sullivan wrote about how Dyson evolved. As Sullivan noted, the Rangers bettered Dyson by making him throw more sinkers.
First, get to know the guy. Tom Wilhelmsen, whom the Mariners shipped to Texas along with outfielder James Jones and a player to be named later, is known for his unique path to the big leagues. In case you are not familiar with him, he served drinks at a bar in his native Tucson, Arizona while his time away from baseball, hence the nickname The Bartender. Jim Caple of ESPN wrote a detailed story about him back in 2011.
The right-hander who turns thirty-two in December posted a 3.19 ERA, 3.33 FIP, struck out 22.5% and walked 10.9% of he 267 batters he faced in 2015. For comparison, league-wide numbers for relievers in each category were 3.71, 3.83, 22.1, and 8.6, respectively. For his career, he has put up a 2.97 ERA, 3.39 FIP, 22.5 K%, and 10.8 BB%, all of which are not far cry from his 2015 numbers. Although he has issued quite a few free passes, Wilhelmsen has been a solid bullpen piece in the five years in the bigs.
Here’s the stuff he’s got. In 2015, as you can see in the chart above, which is retrieved from Brooks Baseball, Wilhelmsen threw a four-seam fastball that averages 95.5 miles-per-hour, change up at 87.6 MPH, slider at 88.2 MPH, curve ball at 78.3 MPH, and sinker at 95.8 MPH. The last of which is, of course, why I think Wilhelmsen could turn into Sam Dyson 2.0.
Eighty-eight right-handed relievers threw at least 100 sinkers during the 2015 regular season. Dyson ranked fifth among them in whiff-per-swing rate at 22.90%. Right below him, in 6th place was, yes, you guessed it, Tom Wilhelmsen, who induced a whiff 22.00% of the time when batters swung at his sinkers. A year ago, Wilhelmsen had a 23.17% whiff-per-swing rate, good for eighth-highest among ninety-three righty relievers who threw at least 100 sinkers in the 2014 regular season.
Let’s take another look at the pitch. In 2015, among the eighty-eight sinker-throwing right-handed relievers I defined above, Wilhelmsen ranked fifteenth in average velocity on the pitch. His new bullpen mate Dyson was tenth, averaging 96.47 MPH on his sinkers.
The sinker is a pitch supposed to kill a lot of worms. In 2015, batters grounded a nice 69% of the time when they put Wilhelmsen’s sinker in play, which was fifteenth highest among eighty-eight relievers in the aforementioned query. While not quite Dyson-esque, Wilhelmsen’s sinker has its own potential to be an effective weapon.
Alas, the former bartender has thrown the pitch just over 11% of the time during his entire career. Presumably because it’s been hit .303 and slugged .385, to go with a .321 BABIP.
But here’s the thing. Before his arrival in Texas, Dyson, too, had allowed sub-optimal results on his sinkers, yielding a .300 average, .391 slugging percentage, and a .355 BABIP. Those numbers took a 180 turn with the Rangers, .183, .207, and .227, respectively.
So, if the Rangers, especially pitching coach Doug Brocail and bullpen coach Brad Holman, both of whom are new comers, just like Wilhelmsen, can fix his sinker and convince him to throw the offering more, we’ll see yet another sinker-resurrected reliever out of the pen. And Wilhelmsen did have experience of accumulating good outcomes on the sinker in 2014, when he held opponents to a minuscule .143 average and .167 slugging percentage. All he needs to do is bringing back the good vibe.
We may miss Leonys Martin’s cannon for an arm in 2016. But in the meantime, there’s a chance we’ll fall in love with Tom Wilhelmsen dominating hitters with an improved sinker in high-leverage situations.