San Francisco Giants: Why Closer Brian Wilson Needs To Change It Up
Two balls, two strikes, two outs, one runner aboard, the San Francisco Giants hold a slim 2-1 lead in the top of the ninth and Wilson throws.
"High drive....left field...Torres baaaaack, gone!................Jeff Baker unloads a two run home run here in the ninth inning and the Cubs take the lead.
"Jeff Baker, got every bit of a fastball." - Mike Krukow (San Francisco Giants Color Analyst)
The 2009 San Francisco Giants were four wins short of qualifying for the postseason for the first time in six seasons, and their closer Brian Wilson had seven blown save opportunities.
Granted there were a countless number of poor performances that led to another disappointing finish to the season, but it was clear that the back end of the bullpen was one of the main contributors.
Time and time again Giants fans held their breath with a slim lead in the ninth inning when Wilson was summoned from the bullpen.
While the current Giants closer earned an All-Star appearance in 2008 and has been a welcomed sight on the mound after the Armando Benitez debacle, he has certainly been no second-coming of Robb Nen since taking over the closer's role.
Back in the day, Nen was an absolute stud at the end of the game, consistently notching 1-2-3 saves almost every time he took the hill.
Nen was never afraid to throw his best secondary pitch (one of the most devastating sliders in the history of the game) in any situation. With impeccable command, Nen really only needed the fastball and slider. He occasionally threw a split, but the slider-fastball combination was already untouchable.
But Wilson simply doesn't have the same type of command with his pitches and doesn't have the confidence to throw his slider in any situation. Whenever backed into a corner, it is a safe bet that Wilson is going to stick with his fastball.
In fastball counts, opposing hitters can almost be guaranteed that Wilson will be bringing the heat.
Now by the sheer fact that Wilson averages 96.6 MPH on the gun, he can get away with throwing mostly gas for the majority of the time. Unfortunately, the situations where he doesn't get away with it end up costing his team what should be victories.
Therefore, if Wilson wants to become one of the games best closers, he has to learn another pitch.
Matching the effectiveness of the all-time great closers who threw consistently at one speed is nearly impossible in this day an age.
The truly great closers in today's game have more than just two main pitches to choose from.
Trevor Hoffman, the all-time saves leader, has been able to keep his career alive for 17 seasons by mixing up his pitches better than any pitcher over that period.
He may only throw an 83 MPH fastball at this point in his career, but mix in curveballs and change-ups in the high 60s and low 70s and he can still fool the best hitters in the game.
As Krukow says time and time again, "What is hitting? Hitting is timing. What is pitching? Pitching is upsetting the timing."
Does throwing in the mid 90s help a closer succeed? Of course it does, but it isn't a requirement.
However, mixing up pitches in order to keep the hitter off-balance is a requirement.
The fact that Wilson can consistently throw in the mid-to-high 90s and snap off an impressive slider demonstrates that he does have an endless amount of potential.
But that potential would surface quicker if the soon to be 28-year-old were to learn arguably the easiest secondary pitch in baseball: The change-up.
Apparently there are plenty of major league pitchers who don't/can't learn the pitch, but it comes surprising to fans who have grown up playing the game. The change-up is the first non-fastball pitch that kids learn in Little League, and yet tons of MLB relievers can't throw it?
Whatever the case may be to why so many pitchers don't have one, it is clearly one of the most devastating pitches in baseball. See Tim Lincecum and Cole Hamels as examples of how when a change-up is working, it is almost unhittable.
A fastball, however, is always hittable. It doesn't matter how hard you throw, big league hitters can hit a fastball; they wouldn't be big leaguers if they couldn't.
For the Giants sake, pitching coach Dave Righetti needs to teach his closer how to throw an consistent change-up to prevent opponents from sitting on a single speed.
If San Francisco wants to see more of Wilson's famous crossed arm, point to the sky gesture after converted save opportunities and less late inning collapses, learning a new pitch will be critical.
Seven blown saves for Wilson in 2009 was more than one too many. Out of the five NL West closers, Wilson's seven blown saves were the highest total.
For a team that relies on its pitching as much as the Giants, blown saves can be absolute back breakers.
It is one thing if the Giants lose games because of their hitting, but this team can't afford to lose games because of their pitching.
Considering Wilson will be making almost 10 times more money this season, he should at the very least put forth a more consistent performance in 2010.
One way to make sure that happens would be to add the change-up to his arsenal of pitches.
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