12/10/11 11:10 AM EST
Wilson major shot in Halos' arms department
By Lyle Spencer / MLB.com
Now, it has become a reality. Wilson agreed to a five-year deal that brings him home to the Pacific Ocean and the palm trees.
Wilson, the ace in 2011 for a Texas outfit that came within one out of a World Series title, is a Southern Californian, born and raised, who knows Orange County roads like the back of his left hand.
Wilson brings quality innings, loads of personality and another plus for the Angels: balance. He's a lefty, and they haven't had one of those they could rely on in the rotation since Joe Saunders was dispatched to Arizona in July 2010, along with three prospects, in exchange for Dan Haren.
Placing Wilson in the middle of manager Mike Scioscia's rotation, Jered Weaver and Haren out front, Ervin Santana and Jerome Williams filling it out, gives the Angels a starting staff as deep and talented as any in the game.
Wilson, who attended high school and junior college within easy commuting distance of Angel Stadium, has had two quality seasons as a starter after launching his Major League career with five seasons in the Texas bullpen.
With the exit of Cliff Lee via free agency after the wild 2010 postseason ride, Wilson assumed the No. 1 role and handled it capably, going 16-7 with a 2.94 ERA in 34 starts. He faltered in the postseason, fighting his command, but a jump in 19 1/3 regular-season innings from 2010 could have been at least partially responsible.
There are sound baseball reasons to believe Wilson can be even better in Angel Stadium, a pitcher's paradise compared to hitter-friendly Rangers Ballpark with its wind tunnel in right-center field.
More runs were scored in Texas than in any other park in the Majors in 2011. Only three parks in the game -- San Diego, Tampa Bay and San Francisco -- produced fewer runs than Angel Stadium, with its thick marine layer knocking down long fly balls.
Another factor making Anaheim unkind to hitters is a superb Angels defense featuring the best outfield in the Majors, according to almost every system of analytics.
The Fielding Bible of the 2012 Bill James Handbook shows Scioscia's outfield saving a total of 38 runs -- three more than the Nationals.
Mixing five pitches effectively to keep hitters off-balance, Wilson has done a remarkable job of keeping the ball in the yard given the conditions in his home park. He yielded a total of 26 homers the past two seasons in 427 1/3 innings.
That number could be even more impressive in his new environment. Some drives to right-center carrying over the wall in Texas will be gathered in stride by center fielder Peter Bourjos or right fielder Torii Hunter. Vernon Wells in left makes all the plays, and all three have strong, accurate arms.
The Angels' infield defense, featuring Rawlings Gold Glove winner Erick Aybar at shortstop and Howard Kendrick at second, also is first-rate. New catcher Chris Iannetta comes highly recommended for his defensive skills and ability to call a game.
Wilson's arrival also serves to take some of the stress off the bullpen, which sagged at times last season under a heavy burden.
Haren (238 1/3), Weaver (235 2/3), Santana (228 2/3) and Wilson (223 1/3) all finished among the top 10 in the AL in innings pitched. And Williams, economical with his ability to pound the strike zone, has shown he can get deep into games as well.
There is nothing Scioscia savors more -- especially now that he's shedding pounds (29) with a healthier diet -- than a rotation spinning on five high-grade wheels.
All winter, when asked how he assesses his club's needs, Scioscia would go against the popular tide calling for offense and talk about pitching, pitching, pitching.
When Jerry Dipoto was introduced as the new Angels general manager, I intercepted Scioscia as he was leaving Angel Stadium and asked if he thought another bat was in order.
"We need pitching," he quickly replied. "One starter, maybe two. You can't have enough starting pitching."
It always has been Scioscia's belief that starting pitching is the foundation of any team. It developed early in his baseball life with the Dodgers, who always seemed to have several youngsters breathing down the necks of five high-performance starters.
"Everything starts with starting pitching," Scioscia likes to say. He feels better than ever about those words today.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.