The Mysterious Release of Matt Wisler
Image courtesy of Matt Marton-USA TODAY SportsHere are the facts, as we know them:
- The Twins claimed Matt Wisler off waivers from Seattle on October 29th of last year, and tendered him a $725,000 contract via arbitration. Evidently they saw something they felt they could unlock in the 27-year-old, coming off a 5.61 ERA with the Padres and Mariners.
- They unlocked it. Wisler enjoyed a breakout season in 2020, albeit in the small sample of 60 games. Relying almost entirely on a fully realized slider, the right-hander was nearly unhittable, posting a 1.07 ERA in 25 ⅓ innings while holding opponents to a 1.65 batting average.
- Here in his second turn at arbitration, Wisler was expected to make somewhere between $1-2 million, a seemingly nominal fee for a 28-year-old relief pitcher coming off a breakout season. (Especially with Trevor May, Sergio Romo, and Tyler Clippard all cast into free agency.)
Everything was lined up such that Wisler was never viewed as much of a question mark. Bringing him back was a given. Even if the Twins looked at Wisler more as a middle reliever than setup man, there was no reason to think he'd be cut loose.
When Wednesday's non-tender deadline came, that is exactly what the Twins did. I was baffled. About an hour after this news dropped, I did a live-stream with Seth and David. We strained to make sense of the move but it was tough.
Even if the Twins viewed Wisler's 1.07 ERA as an unsustainable fluke (it was), and even if they felt his agent was pushing a little hard, and even if budget constraints are tightening in this offseason of uncertainty ... it's just hard to comprehend why the front office would cut ties with a pickup that was everything they could've hoped.
In my state of despair, I wandered over to Wisler's FanGraphs page, with no specific intention. "Maybe I'll just gaze longingly at his swinging strike rate," I thought. But as I arrived at the page...
And scrolled down to look at his stats...
My eyes suddenly zeroed in on one particular region...
Again, we are dealing with a small sample size here. So everything must be taken with a grain of salt, including Wisler's shiny ERA and opponents' batting average. But these underlying numbers make you wonder a little more about those glossy bona fides.
- .241 BABIP: Opponents were less successful on balls in play against Wisler than ever before, by a longshot. His previous career low was .277, and his 2020 BABIP ranked as second-lowest in the Twins bullpen.
- 99.3% LOB: This represents the percentage of baserunners that Wisler left on base, and if you find yourself exclaiming "WHAT?!" you are not alone my friend. That is an incredible number. As I ventured over to his Baseball Reference splits, I found that Wisler held opponents to a .080/.179/.160 slash line with runners in scoring position, and .119/.260/.190 with men on base. One could argue this signifies cold-blooded clutchness. One could also argue it represents a 25-inning fluke. I think I know which way the Twins lean.
- 5.7% HR/FB: Wisler was one of the league's most extreme fly ball pitchers (his 23.6% grounder rate ranked 6th-lowest out of 323 pitchers with 20+ innings) but those flies only left the yard at a 5.7% rate, compared to the league average of 14.8%.
Now, none of these on their own are damning. But each of the above metrics tends to be viewed as relatively random for pitchers ... as opposed to say missing bats, which Wisler did well, or limiting walks, which he didn't.
What these numbers do is cast a little more light on why the Twins front office might've disagreed with the assessment of Wisler and his agent, as Derek Falvey put it so diplomatically:
So for now, Wisler is out of the picture. Meanwhile, Trevor May has signed a deal with the Mets. Sergio Romo and Tyler Clippard are free agents. The Twins are sticking with Taylor Rogers, Tyler Duffey, and Caleb Thielbar.
As for the rest of their bullpen? Now we have our next great mystery.
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