Pittsburgh Pirates Free Agent Target: Justin Wilson


A reunion with a former reliever could be a smart move for the Pittsburgh Pirates to make this offseason

Entering the offseason, Neal Huntington and the Pittsburgh Pirates have a few needs to address. One of the team’s needs entering the offseason is to add another left-handed pitcher to a deep, talented bullpen.

With Felipe Vazquez, Keone Kela, Richard Rodriguez, and Kyle Crick the Pirates should have one of the best bullpens in the National League in 2019. The other three bullpen spots are open for the taking. The in house options for those three spots appear to be Clay Holmes, Dovydas Neverauskas, Michael Feliz, Nick Burdi, Nick Kingham, and Steven Brault.

Other than Brault, none of these pitchers are lefties. And due to his struggles in 2018, Brault being in the Opening Day bullpen is far from a guarantee. This leaves Vazquez, who Clint Hurdle stubbornly insists on using in the made up closer position, as the lone lefty locked into the 2019 ‘pen.

There is a lefty reliever on the free agent market this year that could provide a boost to the Pirate bullpen. He is also a player that Huntington, Hurdle, Ray Searage, and the Pirates know well. That player is Justin Wilson.

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The now 31-year-old Wilson spent his first three MLB seasons with the Pirates before being traded to the Yankees for Francisco Cervelli in November of 2014. He has also pitched for the Tigers and Cubs since leaving the Bronx.

In 54 2/3 innings for the Cubs in 2018 Wilson posted a 3.46 ERA and a 3.64 FIP. His control woes continued as he owned a 14.0% walk rate, but a 29/2% strikeout rate helped clean that up. He also allowed just five home runs.

Wilson’s biggest attribute is his ability to get left-handed hitters out. Last season wild faced 93 left-handed hitters allowing just six extra-base hits, nine singles, and a healthy13:32 walk:strikeout ratio.

In his career, Wilson owns a 9.6% walk rate, 26.6% strikeout rate, and a 5.7% extra-base hit rate against LHHs. Also, for all his control issues, he has only ever hit four lefty batters in his now seven-year MLB career.

Another appealing aspect of a potential reunion with Wilson is that he is also effective against righty batters. Wilson owns an 11.2% walk rate, 25.9% strikeout rate, and a 5.5% extra-base hit rate against RHHs in his career. Due to this, Wilson would not be just a lefty specialist out of the bullpen.

Wilson also has experience pitching in high leverage situations, including with the Pirates. This would allow him to slide into a late inning role for the Bucs, adding to an already dominate back end of the bullpen.