Matt Wisler looked dead in the water a few years ago. After a handful of years struggling as a starting pitcher, the former top prospect looked as if he would be one of the many failed prospects in baseball’s history. But since 2020, he’s reinvented himself as a stable relief pitcher. Now on the open market, Wisler is looking for a team for 2023.
Wisler pitched 44 innings for the Tampa Bay Rays last season, working to a 2.25 ERA, 4.25 FIP, and 1.00 WHIP. Although Wisler’s strikeout rate dropped from 31.8% to just 19.9%, and his walk rate increased from 5.6% to 8%, he was still excellent at limiting hard contact. Wisler held opposing batters to an 87.5 MPH exit velocity and 30.7% hard-hit rate. This helped make up for the fact he is a heavy flyball pitcher. Wisler’s fly ball rate sat at 57.6% while his ground ball rate was just 24.8%.
Fly balls typically result in hits the fewest amount of times, but they also result in the most home runs, which is one reason he had a .198 batting average on balls in play. But even then, that mark is a large indication of luck. In 2020-2021, he had a similar fly ball rate and batted ball rates, but had a much less worrisome .284 BAbip. Plus the dip in strikeout rate and rise in walk rate is slightly concerning. This is reflected in his 4.90 xFIP and 4.52 SIERA.
But Wisler did have a terrific 2020-2021. He struck out nearly a quarter of the opponents he squared off against (32.1% strikeout rate), along with a 2.84 ERA, 3.10 FIP, and 1.09 WHIP. Underlying numbers liked Wisler’s work in 2020-2021 much more than in 2022, as he had a 4.03 xFIP, but 3.27 SIERA.
Wisler likely isn’t going to land a massive deal, maybe a one-year deal, or even a minor league pact. Either way, the Pirates could secure a low-risk reliever with a recent history of success in the majors. He might not be a high-leverage arm, but he would certainly be a better middle relief option than Duane Underwood Jr., and could occasionally open games. After all, he made five appearances as an opener last year, so in the event that is needed, the Pirates could use him in that role as well.