Brian Wilson: All-Star Snub and Deservedly So

Phil BrennanCorrespondent IJuly 7, 2009

SAN FRANCISCO - MAY 31:  Brian Wilson #38 of the San Francisco pitches against the St. Louis Cardinals at AT&T Park on May 31, 2009 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

First, let’s get this shiny robust figure out of way: 22.

As in the number of saves that Giants' reliever, Brian Wilson, has collected thus far in the 2009 season as we near its midway point.  Numbers good enough for second most in the National League and leaves him tied for third overall in the majors.

Those details alone would lead a lot of people to believe that Wilson is deserving of an All-Star spot later this July.  Or at the very least, put him in the conversation of who are the league's best closers.

I'd like to layout the reasons why he was deservedly left off this year's All-Star roster and also explain why he isn't one of the league's best relief pitchers.

Before I start, it's worthwhile to go through a refresher of what exactly constitutes a save opportunity.  By doing so, I'll be demonstrating why simply pointing to save totals alone is a foolhardy approach to determining a reliever's effectiveness.

10.19 Saves For Relief Pitchers
A save is a statistic credited to a relief pitcher, as set forth in this Rule 10.19.
The official scorer shall credit a pitcher with a save when such pitcher meets all four of the following conditions:
(a) He is the finishing pitcher in a game won by his team;
(b) He is not the winning pitcher;
(c) He is credited with at least a third of an inning pitched; and
(d) He satisfies one of the following conditions:
(1) He enters the game with a lead of no more than three runs and pitches for at least one inning;
(2) He enters the game, regardless of the count, with the potential tying run either on base, or at bat or on deck (that is, the potential tying run is either already on base or is one of the first two batters he faces); or
(3) He pitches for at least three innings.

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Wilson’s bumbling effort in the Giants’ 5-4 win over the Marlins on July 6, is a prime example of why save totals don’t adequately speak to a closer’s ability.

Wilson entered the game (ninth inning) with a 5-2 lead, which satisfied part one of the aforementioned criteria needed for a save.  Without going into the pitch-by-pitch detail, Wilson surrenders the follows stat line:

1.0  3  2  2   1    0   0   3.79

After that stellar performance (all sarcasm intended), guess what Wilson was rewarded with?  That’s right, a save.

What Giants fans should be concerned with is not save totals, but a relief pitcher’s effectiveness.  Or more to the point, when the game is on the line, do you have a pitcher who can be trusted to get three outs; a pitcher whose overwhelming stuff can overpower an opposing team’s lineup; a pitcher who doesn’t hurt himself (and by extension his team) by putting men on base and into scoring position.

I don’t believe the Giants have that type of reliever in Wilson.

Now, that isn’t to say Wilson has not had runs of dominance. The fact is he has. 

The problem is that he’s so insanely inconsistent. As a reliever, what good are you if you can’t be trusted to put the nail in the coffin on a consistent basis?

Baseball is a game that heavily favors the pitcher.  Even the game’s best hitters typically fail seven out of 10 plate appearances.  An average major league pitcher should be able to shutdown an opposing team for one inning.

Don’t believe me?

Brad Hennessey, who’s not even on a major league roster currently, saved 19 games (in 24 opportunities) for the Giants in 2007.  Matt Herges saved 23 games (in 31 opportunities) for the Giants in 2004.

Are they not pitchers that Wilson is?  Take a look at Hennessey's numbers with the Giants in 2007 and see if you still believe that.

W  L   ERA   G    SV   SVO    IP      H    R    ER  HR  BB  SO    AVG.  WHIP
4   5  3.42  69   19   24   68.1    66  26   26   7   23   40   .257   1.30

Wilson’s Problems

Let’s first look at some of his vital numbers for this season (as of 7/6):

22 saves (26 SVO)
3.79 ERA
16 ER (18 total runs allowed)
1.29 WHIP
15 BB/42 SO
38 IP
34 H

Remove the 22 saves and those look like pretty decent numbers for a starting pitcher. However, when you realize these are numbers from a pitcher that is typically asked to just get three outs an outing you see how inept Wilson really has been.

It’s not an aberration either.  Wilson’s numbers last year were just as mediocre (4.62 ERA, 41 saves/47 opportunities, 1.44 WHIP).

This season he’s blown four games for the Giants.  Think about it, those games would do a world of difference in the standings if the team had those wins back.

Wilson’s problems stem from essentially two issues. 

One, despite what Krukow may tell you on the broadcasts, Wilson throws effectively one pitch, the fastball (a four-seamer I believe).  He throws it typically around 96 to 100 mph.  That’s heat any way you slice it.  However, the reality is major league hitters can hit 100 mph fastballs.  Without legitimately offering batters other pitches, hitters sit back on Wilson’s fastball and as the numbers have shown, knock it.

The second issue is he lacks consistent control of that fastball, let alone his other pitches.  Wilson gives up a lot free bases for being a closer.  He sports a career strike out to walk ratio of nearly 2:1, which is atrocious for a reliever. 

Most troubling, though, is his approach to the game.  During one of his weekly shows on KNBR, Ralph Barbieri asked him if he watches or studies tape on opposing team’s hitters.  Wilson responded in cocksure manner, “no.”  He alluded to the fact he just goes out there and makes his pitches regardless of who the batter is.

Recently, in MLB.com beat writer Chris Haft’s blog (http://chrishaft.mlblogs.com/), Wilson offers the following gem while lauding Mariano Rivera:

Giants closer Brian Wilson, who has listened ad nauseum to coaches and managers telling him that he must mix up his pitches more, seized upon Mariano Rivera's milestone 500th save as an example of a pitcher who excels without variety.

“The guy's gone after hitters with one pitch his whole career," Wilson said, referring to Rivera's cut fastball. "Pitching coaches always harp on getting a third pitch, a fourth pitch, and he has always been the case where I'd say, 'Well, Mariano's got one pitch, so'"and then dot, dot, dot.

"It's such a good pitch that it's really four different types of pitches. He can throw it front door to a righty, back door to a lefty, he can throw it to the other side of the plate and he can throw it down. Maybe that's all you need. His plate zone because of that pitch is expanded."

Here’s the problem Brian, you’re not Rivera and you certainly don’t have his “one pitch.” 

I’m calling it early folks, if it comes down to crunch-time for the division or the wildcard spot, I really believe Wilson is going to play a major role in determining our fate, and I don’t think it’s going to be positive.

I’m passionate about this topic because I feel like Krukow and company have Giants fans hoodwinked into believing Wilson is something he’s not—a great reliever.

I’m open to discussing any statistics on the issue.

Your thoughts?

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