Steven Wilson has been one of the best surprises out of the Padres bullpen this season. A look behind what has led to his strong start.
Not only one of the best stories within the San Diego Padres organization but the entire league – Steven Wilson‘s journey to the big leagues is nothing short of spectacular. The 27-year-old made his big league debut this season after being drafted in the eighth round of the 2018 MLB draft. Wilson lost two seasons at Santa Clara University, one to a shoulder injury and another to Tommy John surgery. He settled for a $5,000 signing bonus as a sixth-year senior.
The Littleton, CO native played across two levels of the Padres’ minor league affiliates after being drafted, kickstarting his career in professional baseball. Wilson spent last year in Triple-A El Paso, spinning a 3.43 ERA in 28 appearances, all out of the bullpen. Across 39.1 innings, he struck out a whopping 63 batters and pushed for a case to make the big league club. Wilson was added to the Padres’ 40-man roster in advance of the MLB lockout.
But without a paycheck since October, he was forced to make ends meet. He had been Ubering on the side as additional income.
Through the first couple of weeks into the 2022 campaign, Wilson has become one of the most reliable arms out of the Friars’ bullpen. In a limited sample size of just 5.1 innings, he has a 1.69 ERA but has struck out nine batters to only two walks. He leads the team with a 47.4 percent strikeout rate entering Wednesday’s series finale with the Reds.
He has the best strikeout rate on the team, but Wilson is also among the best in strikeouts-to-walk rate (36.8 percent).
Wilson keeps it relatively simple in his pitch arsenal, featuring just two pitches – his four-seam fastball and a slider. He throws his fastball just over 60 percent of the time, averaging 94.6 mph, with a nearly even split to right-handed and left-handed batters. Hitters have been able to do little with this pitch, yielding just a .182 average and generating soft contact at an average 74.9 mph exit velocity.
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Further, Wilson has gotten opposing batters to swing-and-miss on 43.5 percent of the time and a 42.9 percent put-away rate.
Wilson’s has 6 inches more vertical movement – or 15 percent more movement – than the league average compared to other MLB fastballs. He’s peppered the upper third of the strike zone with the fastball, which is where he’s had the most success generating swing-and-misses. Wilson runs his fastball up and finishes above the zone, as shown below in the graphic and video.
He’s had good vertical movement on his slider, with 2 inches more drop – or 14 percent more drop – than similar MLB sliders. Opposite of his fastball, Wilson’s slider falls off a table just below the strike zone, and opposing batters are swinging right over the top of it.
If we look at pitches for contact within the strike zone, the opposition is connecting 64.0 percent of the time, well below the 82.0 percent league average. Further, he’s generating a 31.4 percent chase rate, better than the 28.3 percent league average in that department. When hitters do chase, they make contact only 18.2 percent of the time, which is significantly lower than the 58.4 percent league average.
He’s shown good command of both pitches, with just two walks this year. Wilson also has produced a 47.2 percent whiff rate between both pitches, which is well below the MLB average of 24.6 percent.
For now, Wilson is the best-kept secret in the Padres bullpen. He completed another inning, striking out two on Wednesday, so perhaps the secrets.
I’d expect him to get an opportunity to close a few games in situations where Taylor Rogers is unable to pitch on back-to-back nights. If he can keep this up for the entire year, I suspect that Wilson won’t need to be Ubering anyone anytime soon.
Padres writer/editor for East Village Times. LA Kings writer/editor for Hockey Royalty. IBWAA member.