Brian Wilson: Closer for the San Francisco Giants
Is there an issue with the Giants' conditioning regimen, or are many of the pitchers just tired after an extended 2010? There was much talk in spring training about the condition of the Giants' pitchers, and how their arms would react to the extra load of last year’s postseason run.
While there were a couple of arm issues early in the year, most of the Giants starters have held up well as Cain, Lincecum, and Bumgarner are well on their way to a 200+ inning season. The question is then, why are many of the Giants' key pitchers experiencing a decline in their velocity?
Take a look at five key pitchers who have suddenly lost miles off of their fastball.
To state the obvious, Barry Zito has never been a flame thrower. In fact, even in his Cy Young days, Zito’s velocity was in the low 90s at best. When Zito came over the Giants in 2007, he was consistently in the 88-90 mph range, and still had his big looping curveball.
Nowadays, Zito is routinely hitting 82-84 mph on the radar gun, and the curveball, well, that big loop looks more like a soft arc (or a grapefruit if you’re in the batter’s box).
Zito’s arm slot has been well documented, and after his stint in the minor leagues this year, he put three good starts together and actually looked like the Zito of old. His fastball was in the upper 80s, the curveball had big break and good bite, and his control was excellent. Suddenly, as quick as it came back, it was gone, and the low to mid 80s fastball was back.
At 33 years old, is Zito’s huge drop in velocity age or mechanics?
Last year, Santiago Casilla was a staple in Bochy’s late inning approach. With Jeremy Affeldt having an off year, Runzler getting hurt, and Ramirez and Lopez coming in later in the year, Casilla recorded a lot of innings in spots where the game was clearly on the line. Bochy seemed enamored with his snapping 12 to 6 curveball, and especially with his 98-100 mph fastball that exploded late in the hitting zone.
While Casilla is still getting his fair share of innings, his 98+ fastball is MIA. Casilla has been consistently in the mid 90’s this year, down 3-4 mph on his fastball. Occasionally he gets up into the 96, 97 range, but Casilla hasn’t been around 98-99 mph all year, and his fastball was rarely under 98 mph all of 2010. Where did Casilla’s 98-100 mph fastball go in one year?
In 2006, Matt Cain’s first full year in the big leagues, his fastball was consistently 95-97 mph. For the last year, Cain has been throwing a fastball in the 92-94 mph range, often mixing it up to keep the hitter off balance.
Cain’s letter-high heat has always been a staple of his game, challenging hitters to hit it if they can, even in hitter’s counts. At 92, 93 mph, the elevated fastball is still an effective pitch, but it has lost a mile or two and I’m not sure why.
Cain’s motion is quiet, consistent, and his shoulders and body were built to handle a heavy pitching load for a long time. When Cain came up in 2006, Mike Krukow regularly commented on Cain’s broad shoulders and how strong the young kid was. At age 26, should Cain be losing miles on his fastball?
At the beginning of the year I chronicled Tim Lincecum and the struggles he experienced with his mechanics last year. The article detailed Lincecum’s back-to-back Cy Young years, and how he consistently threw his fastball in the 96-98 mph range. During the worst slump of his career last August, Lincecum’s fastball was consistently in the 87-89 mph range.
Lincecum went on to find his motion, and a better fastball, as he was consistently in low 92-94 mph range throughout the Giants' postseason run, but he never returned to 96 and above. Lincecum has been consistently in the 92-95 mph range this year, occasionally hitting 96, but it seems apparent that the days of him routinely hitting 96 and 97 are long gone.
Part of the decline in velocity is clearly strategic, as he will change speeds with his fastball depending on the count and situation. Lincecum himself has discussed how he has become a pitcher, and not just a thrower, all of which has helped him conserve energy and arm strength. Could Lincecum hit 97+ again if he wanted to, and why has it disappeared so fast?
Brian Wilson, one of the best ninth inning guys in baseball over the past four years, seemingly has every trait that most scouts look for in a Closer. Starting with his quirky make up (most great closers are a little off), Wilson has shown a knack for rising to the occasion in the biggest moments in ball games, even if some of those situations were heightened by his own mistakes.
He is in phenomenal shape, built for multiple innings, sometimes four or five days in a week, is mentally tough, and is loaded with a four-seam 97-98 mph fastball that occasionally hits in the 99-100 mph range. Well, actually, he used to be armed with that fastball, but it is has somehow disappeared this year.
It’s been well documented this year that Wilson spent a lot of time in the offseason developing a two-seam fastball that moved from left to right. After refining the pitch in the first part of the year, Wilson now regularly uses the two-seamer, running it up to the plate in the 93-95 mph range. The four-seamer, which Wilson used to rely on but has gone away from a little bit, is rarely hitting 96 anymore, let alone 97-98.
In Wilson’s blown save last night against the Atlanta Braves, Wilson hit 97 with his two-seam fastball, sitting around 95-96 with his four-seam. It may sound trivial to bring out the difference between 2 mph, but it has all come about this year. Wilson hasn’t been consistently throwing 97-98 all year, let alone anything above, and those mph are a big deal when it comes down to major league hitters in a fastball count. Why has Wilson's 98+ mph fastball suddenly disappeared?