LOS ANGELES – In one of those flashbacks that makes you remember when all the 10th-grade girls were hissing at the homecoming queen, Sports Illustrated came out with an anonymous player poll last week.
The goal was to identify the most overrated pitcher in the minds of the major leaguers themselves. Under the cloak of namelessness, 14 percent of them made Angels left-hander C.J. Wilson the winner.
The Angels' C.J. Wilson allowed four hits and one run in seven innings Wednesday against the Dodgers, and his ERA dropped to 2.30, second in the AL.
Now, you can dislike the homecoming queen because she wears too much mascara or shows a little too much leg or hangs out with the tattooed guys back behind the school buses. Or you can dislike her because you're not the homecoming queen.
But you can't deny that she's pretty, and that's what this undisclosed number of Wilson's colleagues was saying.
"I don't care who thinks he's overrated," pitching coach Mike Butcher. "I think all of us are glad he's around."
The reason is that Wilson was around when Dan Haren really wasn't there, or when Ervin Santana was on alternating current, or when Jered Weaver was getting his back straightened.
He has held the Angels' most important component together. The club is leading the American League in quality-start percentage and runs permitted per game. Wilson has turned in a quality start in 11 of 14 appearances (he was kayoed by a first-inning rainstorm in another one ) and has gone at least seven innings in six of those starts, including Wednesday night's game against the Dodgers.
Wilson did not get the victory after seven resolute innings, but neither did the Dodgers. Erick Aybar's first home run of the season, in the ninth, won the game and the series for the Angels, both by 2-1 margins.
"He's very, very, very well prepared," Butcher said. "It starts the day after his start. He studies the hitters, develops a plan, watches video. A lot of visualization, a very structured plan. He's open to a lot of things."
But in many ways Wilson is an old-style bulldog left-hander. Not since Tom Glavine has a guy been so reluctant to "give in," to throw a routine strike because that's what the scoreboard says he should do.
Wilson is unbothered by walks. They don't send base runners into sprint mode. Doubles do, and Wilson won't let you hit those.
"He walks guys, but he can punch them out, too," Butcher said. "He comes inside, breaks a lot of bats, gets grounders. He'll get out of whack like everybody else but he knows himself so well that he can get himself out of it. I get a kick out of watching the way he goes about things."
Wednesday was typical. The Dodgers had two-out, scoring-position opportunities in the first, second and sixth innings and never got a hit. There were Dodgers on base in each inning but the fifth and they got just one run, on Andre Ethier's first-inning gap double.
Wilson walked five. Just one of those walks scored. He threw double-play balls in the third and fourth and thought he had thrown another in the sixth, except it was ruled that Aybar actually had possession of Juan Rivera's flare before he dropped it.
Wilson led American League pitchers in ground ball double plays last year, with 31. He has 14 in 14 starts this year. He also led the AL in hits per nine innings last year (six) and in slugging percentage-against (.311) in 2010. This year the league is hitting .190 against Wilson. That's second in the A.L to Chicago's Chris Sale, and Wilson finished second in 2010.
In 427 innings over the past two seasons, Wilson yielded 26 home runs — and that's pitching half his games in Texas. So, predictably, Wilson has given up only four in 86 innings this year.
Overrated? Not hardly.
But these are the days of Unfounded Opinion, when the bile that you once muttered under your breath in the car is now spread by your keyboard across the cosmos, and no thought can be left unspoken.
This is the same mindset that allows people to knock LeBron James' unprecedented ability to play basketball because they don't appreciate the clumsy way of leaving Cleveland. One has nothing to do with the other, but nuance left the room a long time ago, right behind cigarette holders.
Wilson should be most insulted by the overrated company he kept. Second in the poll is A.J. Burnett, who was Yankee Stadium's piñata the past two years. John Lackey, whose free agent contract really was the Boston Strangler, finished fourth.
Wilson does not wear the stone face that is supposed to be standard baseball equipment. He is not shy about discussing his many pursuits or advertising his own worth — he campaigned publicly to get into the Texas rotation in 2010.
Overbearing is one thing. Overrated is another. Because of Wilson, the Angels might not be.
By Mark Whicker of The OC Register. View the original article HERE