San Francisco Giants' Brian Wilson Is Making Progress (But I'm Still Worried)

Troy NelsonContributor IIIJanuary 17, 2012

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - SEPTEMBER 14: Brian Wilson #38 of the San Francisco Giants plays catch before the game between the San Diego Padres and the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park on September 14, 2011 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Tony Medina/Getty Images)
Tony Medina/Getty Images

Forget about his beard.

What San Francisco Giants fans really need to be concerned about is Brian Wilson‘s elbow.

The wild and woolly closer was limited to just two relief appearances over the final six weeks of the 2011 season due to a strained right elbow. And I'm worried.

Before I get into that, I should mention that there is some good news this week.

According to Henry Schulman at the San Francisco Chronicle, Wilson (who had Tommy John surgery on his elbow in 2003 while at LSU) has begun firing fastballs from a distance of 90 feet and is reportedly "right on schedule" for the start of spring training.

However, once Cactus League action begins next month, the Giants are going to stay on the safe side and have Wilson throw a couple of bullpen sessions versus pitching in live games until they are sure his elbow is in tip-top condition. (You may remember Wilson got off to a slow start last spring, too, when he started experiencing back spasms shortly after he arrived to Scottsdale.)

Last year wasn’t exactly a watershed season for Wilson, who started off roughly by posting a 6.97 ERA in 11 April games.

He was his normal bad-ass self in May (0.66 ERA) and June (1.29 ERA), but then got lit up again in July (3.75 ERA) and August (7.36 ERA), when the elbow started flaring up.

Overall, Wilson went 6-4 with a 3.11 ERA, 1.473 WHIP, 36 saves, 54 strikeouts and 31 walks (none intentional) in 55 innings last year. Not a horrible season, by any stretch, but certainly not his best either.

While Wilson's earned run average was very good, the innings total was his lowest since 2007. Despite 36 saves (which was good enough for 8th place in the NL and 11th-best in all of baseball), he also blew five saves and allowed opposing hitters to bat .400 against him when he was pitching with the bases loaded (10 different occasions).

His 5.1 BB/9 rate was his highest since his rookie year of 2006 (6.3), and his SO/9 rate of 8.8 was his lowest since he posted a 6.8 SO/9 rate in 2007.

All of these figures raise a massive red flag for me.

While it’s very uncommon for a pitcher to have ulnar collateral ligament damage in the same spot after having Tommy John surgery once before, it’s not unheard of.

Doug Brocail, Al Reyes, Matt Riley, and Darren Dreifort are all major league pitchers who have had the procedure performed twice. Former Cincinnati Reds flamethrower Jose Rijo had five Tommy John surgeries!

Wilson, who turns 30 on March 16, had an MRI done on his elbow back in August and, fortunately, the exam did not reveal any structural damage to his UCL.

But as someone who’s followed the game for over 40 years, I’ve seen this scene played out before and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t worried about Wilson's 2012 season.