People who throw things for a living (quarterbacks, pitchers, Russell Crowe) don’t check under their beds for the boogeyman- they look for Dr. James Andrews, whose very mention conjures images of torn ligaments and career-ending injuries. Giants closer Brian Wilson has crossed paths with The Good Doctor twice- once for Tommy John surgery at LSU and once last August for elbow inflammation. Though the prognosis wasn’t serious and no surgery was required, The Bearded One faced just five batters in the remaining six weeks of the season. The Chronicle reported last month that Wilson’s rehab will have him ready for most of spring training, but questions remain about how effective and healthy the three-time All-Star will be. The answer to these questions, in my mind, is one of dismissal: the Giants don’t need Brian Wilson.
With all the offseason nonsense of Carlos Beltran this, Ryan Theriot that, and Buster Fever in full effect, it is easy to forget that Wilson struggled with both injury and control in 2011. By every metric, Wilson failed to deliver the type of performance that Giants fans became accustomed to in 2009 and 2010. Let’s break down three stats. The first number will be his combined 2009/2010 numbers and the second will be from the 2011 season. Strikeouts per nine innings: 10.8 to 8.8. Walks per nine innings: 3.2 to 5.1. And finally, hits per nine innings: 7.5 to 8.2. The 2011 numbers collate to a 1.473 WHIP, Wilson’s worst mark since his rookie season. The uptick in hits is just as disturbing, as Wilson relies on missing bats more than any Giants player other than Sergio Romo, who might as well be throwing pebbles at batters holding wet noodles. Call it regression, call it elbow tenderness, call it Taco Bell-itis, call it whatever puts you to sleep at night. My sinking feeling is that Brian Wilson will never be the same again. But here are three reasons I’m not all that worried.
-The Giants starting pitchers are innings eaters. Lincecum, Cain, and Bumgarner all threw over 200 innings and Vogelsong would have sniffed 200 had he started the season in the rotation. The fifth spot is dicier with a likely Zito/Surkamp carousel, but fifth starters are expected to eat innings like supermodels eat cheesecake- sparingly. As a result, the bullpen was fresh for all of 2011, even with Rip Van Romo sleeping through half of it.
-The bullpen is deep. Let’s just start with the right-handers. The LEAST reliable arms are Guillermo Mota and Clay Hensley, who are more than capable of putting up league average numbers. Santiago Casilla, who closed when Wilson went down, had a 206 ERA+. The lefties are where things get interesting. The Giants picked up Jeremy Affeldt’s $5 million option and Javier Lopez signed a 2/$8.5 deal. The blogosphere nearly rioted with OMGGGGGIANTS and NOBELTRANTHEVIEWFROMTHISLEDGEISQUITENICE. Even Grantland’s Jonah Keri even came on the show and condemned the move. But I’m starting to see that maintaining bullpen depth was essentially the Giants buying Brian Wilson insurance. Brought to you by Geico or something.
-Heath Hembree. He’s still a thousand long bus rides away from a closing gig in the majors, but with Wilson becoming a free agent in 2014 look for Hembree to give the Giants a reason to let Wilson walk. But Hembree walks too ma—-LOOK AT THOSE K RATES!!! And Podcast Survivor Kevin Goldstein says he has closer makeup. And that one should believe in such things. So there.
Now that I have all of you really angry at me, let me say I love Brian Wilson. I root for Brian Wilson. I even like his antics. The Beard. The Bell. The Finger Pointy thing. He just plays a very volatile position and can derail at any moment.
I’m just glad we don’t need him as much as we think we do.