Pittsburgh Pirates: Revisiting Justin Wilson’s 2013 Season


The Pittsburgh Pirates 2013 postseason run was fueled by an excellent bullpen, and a key member of the Shark Tank was lefty Justin Wilson

Due to the coronavirus pandemic leading to baseball being shutdown, we have talked a lot about the 2013 Pittsburgh Pirates the past few months. This is for good reason. After all, there is no baseball happening right now so why not revisit one of the best, most memorable teams in franchise history?

A big reason the 2013 Pittsburgh Pirates won 94 games and came one win away from advancing to the National League Championship Series was their bullpen. Known as ‘The Shark Tank’ the Bucco bullpen was arguably the best in the MLB that season. A key cog in the bullpen’s success was left-handed rookie hurler Justin Wilson.

A one time highly touted starting pitching prospect, the Pittsburgh Pirates moved Wilson to the bullpen at Triple-A Indianapolis in 2012. Later that summer, he made his MLB debut with the Bucs. In just 4.2 innings of work in 2012, Wilson allowed a whopping 10 hits while also walking three batters. However, thanks in large part to seven strikeouts he allowed just a single run.

After getting a cup of coffee with the Pirates in 2012, Wilson was a member of the Opening Day bullpen in 2013. He would quickly become one of Clint Hurdle’s go to arms out of the bullpen, logging 73.2 innings of work in 58 games that season.

During the 2013 campaign Wilson pitched in long relief, high leverage situations, and was used to retire left-handed batters. He did a little bit of everything out of the Pirate bullpen. Pitching in these variety of situations, the lefty posted a sparkling 2.08 ERA to go with a 3.41 FIP. While he did walk 9.5% of the batters he faced, he struck out 20.0% and allowed just 50 hits, only four of which were home runs.

That October, Wilson pitched 2.2 innings in the NLDS. He allowed a run on two hits, a walk, and three strikeouts in his work against the St. Louis Cardinals.

Entering the 2014 season Wilson was expected to once again be a major cog in the Pittsburgh Pirates bullpen. However, there were also some red flags entering the season. The biggest being his .229 batting average on balls in play from 2013. A BAbip this far below .300 indicates a pitcher that is due for some serious regression, which is exactly what happened to Wilson in 2014.

Wilson logged 60 innings in 70 games for the Pirates in 2014. While his strikeout rate jumped to 23.8%, his walk rate also jumped up more than 2% points to 11.7%. This was a contributing factor in his ERA more than doubling to 4.08.

Wilson’s final outing as a Pirate came in the 2014 NL Wild Card Game. That night against the San Francisco Giants, he issued a walk, threw a wild pitch, and allowed a hit before being pulled after facing just three batters.

Following the 2014 season he was traded to the New York Yankees for catcher Francisco Cervelli in what proved to be one of the best trades of the Neal Huntington Era. While Wilson once again found his 2013 form in the Bronx, an every day catcher, especially one that performed at the level Cervelli did with the Bucs, is always more valuable than a relief pitcher.

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While Wilson’s career in Pittsburgh may have ended on a bit of a sour note, he was still a key member of the 2013 Pirates. For this reason, he will always have a soft spot in my heart as that was the team that introduced my generation of fans to pennant races and postseason baseball.