The SF Giants have agreed to a deal with right-handed reliever Matt Wisler, according to a report by Ken Rosenthal.
As the socially distanced Winter Meetings get underway, the SF Giants have agreed to a one-year, $1.15 million contract with reliever Matt Wisler, according to a report by Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic. Wisler is coming off a breakout season with the Minnesota Twins.
Drafted by the San Diego Padres as a starting pitcher out of high school, Wisler moved through the minor leagues and emerged as one of the best prospects in their system. After reaching Triple-A in 2014, he became the centerpiece of a package sent to Atlanta in a trade for Craig Kimbrel and Melvin Upton Jr. The next season, he made his big-league debut at just 22-years old and looked like a potential long-term starter in Atlanta’s rotation.
In his rookie campaign, Wisler made 19 starts, completed 109 innings, and posted an unexceptional 4.71 ERA. However, a concerningly low strikeout rate (5.9 strikeouts per nine innings) offered a red flag of what was to come. For the next two seasons, he failed to take another step and was eventually removed from Atlanta’s rotation and sent to the Cincinnati Reds in the Adam Duvall trade at the 2018 deadline.
The next spring, Wisler faced an uphill battle to make a Reds bullpen stacked with talent. Out of options, Cincinnati sent him back to the Padres for a low-level minor leaguer. Exclusively out of the bullpen, he struggled to limit runs in San Diego (5.28 ERA in 28 innings) but began to generate punch outs at a higher rate than he ever had previously (10.6 K/9). Still, the Padres, trying to find their way into a 2019 postseason run, wanted more productivity and sold him to the Seattle Mariners a few days before the deadline.
With the Mariners, Wisler showed more of the same. He struck out 29 batters and walked just six across 22 innings of work, but posted a 6.04 ERA anyway. Home runs were his kryptonite. Throwing his slider over 70% of the time, Wisler seemed more susceptible to the big fly because he was relying on a pitch that is known for hanging over the middle of the plate on occasion. Then again, his 18.7% home run-to-flyball rate suggested he could have just been suffering from some bad luck.
This season, after the Minnesota Twins claimed him off waivers, Wisler relied even more heavily on his slider. Yet, even though he threw it 83.4% of the time, hitters struggled more than they ever had against his slider. Opposing batters whiffed on 37.9% of swings against Wisler’s best pitch and posted a meager .143 batting average and .221 slugging percentage when they put it in play.
Wisler saw his walk-rate go in the wrong direction, recording a career-worst 5.0 walks per nine innings, but he suppressed opposing contact and generated enough punchouts to make up for it. In 18 appearances, Wisler completed 25.1 innings, struck out 35, walked just 14, allowed only 2 home runs, and most importantly recorded a 1.07 ERA.
Per Baseball Savant, Wisler ranked in the 89th percentile or better in the vast majority of their metrics including expected ERA, expected batting average against, and strikeout rate. He looked like an elite reliever. More traditional advanced numbers were skeptical. FIP estimated the quality of his performance as closer to worthy of a 3.35 ERA and xFIP thought he was actually a better pitcher in 2019 than in 2020 when it jumped from 3.85 to 4.99.
He probably falls somewhere between his 2019 and 2020 performance. Over the last two seasons combined, Wisler threw 76.2 innings, struck out 11.5 per nine, walked about 3.5 per nine, posted a 4.11 ERA, and a similar 3.94 FIP. According to ERA+, he performed 6% better than the league average over the timeframe. Solid but unexceptional, that’s what SF Giants fans should expect.
Given the minimal cost, it appears that’s how most front offices viewed Wisler as well. Still, the best right-handed reliever in the Giants pen outside of Tyler Rogers might have been Sam Coonrod. Matt Wisler may not be the lockdown high-leverage arm that the pen needs, but he’s a clear upgrade. Plus, at just 28-years old, and relatively new to relief, there’s reason to believe he could unlock more.
Giants fans are familiar with Sergio Romo‘s reliance on his elite slider, but Wisler takes it to another level. Wisler was the only qualified pitcher last season to throw sliders at a higher-rate than Romo. Yet, Wisler’s 83.4% mark was still almost 20 percentage points higher than Romo, who threw his slider on just 64.8% of his pitches. In fact, Romo has never thrown his slider more than 65% of the time, a mark Wisler has eclipsed in each of the last two seasons.
The SF Giants had an obvious need for right-handed relievers and they gave manager Gabe Kapler a solid option in Matt Wisler. The move may not alleviate their bullpen concerns but improves their depth on a very reasonable one-year, $1.15 million contract. Plus, his unique repertoire will offer manager Gabe Kapler a different look to throw at opposing hitters.