The Giants Need Closer Brian Wilson to Step It Up

Kevin O'BrienCorrespondent IJuly 10, 2009

SAN FRANCISCO - JUNE 21:  Brian Wilson #38 of the San Francisco Giants pitches against the Texas Rangers during a Major League Baseball game on June 21, 2009 at AT&T Park in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

To be honest, Brian Wilson is the Giants' best closer since 2002.

That's right. We haven't had a good closer since Robb Nen's final healthy season.

Unfortunately, it's more of an example of mediocrity rather than a testament to Wilson's performance.

In the past six years before Wilson took over as full-time closer last season, Giants fans had to watch numerous retreads who couldn't handle the pressure of the ninth.

Matt Herges. Tim Worrell. Armando Benitez. Tyler Walker. There are more to name, of course, but unfortunately, listing any more former Giants closers would only make me sicker.

Wilson came in when Giants fans were desperate for a guy who could take the ball in the ninth and get the job done.

We wanted a guy who wouldn't completely implode when the heat was on, and wouldn't lash back when he didn't come through (as Benitez did time and time again even though our dissatisfaction with him was much deserved).

For the most part, Wilson has accomplished that.

Last season, Wilson saved 41 games en route to his first All-Star selection. This year, Wilson has saved 22 games.

Yet for some reason, while I can admit that Wilson is a tremendous upgrade over the lousy, over-the-hill Benitez, I just can't fully embrace Wilson as the main man in the ninth.

Because it seems when things get tough, Wilson seems to crumble.

He doesn't disintegrate as badly as Benitez, but he doesn't have the fortitude that the great closers have.

Closers like Trevor Hoffman of the Brewers, Francisco Rodriguez of the Mets and Mariano Rivera of the Yankees have that toughness in the ninth. They don't show panic when runners get on and the lead is only one. They show the kind of composure that makes fans and players alike know that they will come through.

I don't see that in Wilson.

If he allows a walk or a base hit, Wilson seems to unravel.

When he's facing the three, four and five hitters in the lineup, you begin to feel nervous, and start to dread that bad things are going to happen.

With a good closer, it shouldn't matter who he faces in the lineup. They are supposed to close the game, whether it's Albert Pujols they're facing in the ninth or Fernando Tatis.

It is obvious when you watch him live or on television that Wilson doesn't have that "closer composure" when he takes the mound in the ninth, and his stats on paper don't help his case, either.

Last year, Wilson had a 4.62 ERA, allowed 62 hits in 62 innings, and gave up 32 runs. To make matters worse, batters hit .263 off Wilson.

Those stats aren't worthy of someone who was selected as an All-Star.

Just look at how he compares to American League All-Star closer Joe Nathan, a former Giant (whom GM Brian Sabean stupidly traded away in the worst deal in Giants history) and the current closer for the Minnesota Twins.

Last season, Nathan had two fewer saves than Wilson (39 to Wilson's 41). However, he blows Wilson away in every other statistical category.

Nathan had a 1.33 ERA last season (his ERA has never topped three since becoming the Minnesota closer), gave up only 43 hits in 67 innings and allowed a measly 13 runs (10 of them earned).

Who would you rather have as closer?

Safe to say, as much as Giants fans like Wilson and his charisma on and off the field, fans would take Nathan in a second.

Because when it comes down to it, Nathan is a better pitcher in the ninth. Nathan may not have as good a fastball or stuff in general, but he knows how to get batters out when it counts.

Wilson on the other hand, still struggles with that. You don't feel he knows he can get guys out.

He only hopes he can.

A closer can't think that way. He needs to know he can get the job done all the time. He has to have the mindset that if a hitter is going to beat him, it's going to be because of the batter's tremendous skill.

The good closers refuse to beat themselves.

Unfortunately, when Wilson gets to the mound and has a bad outing, more often than not, it's because Wilson took himself out of it mentally.

He loses his focus when his slider is not finding the strike zone.

His confidence dissolves quicker than salt in water when runners get on base.

Wilson just can't continue that mindset if he wants to still be the guy in the ninth for this Giants team.

Closers need to be more like Johnny Drama than Vinnie Chase on the mound (Sorry, I can't stopping thinking of Entourage with the season six premiere coming up on Sunday.)

It is better for a closer to have an exuberant amount of confidence, even if they aren't as talented, rather than be a talented pitcher who always doubts himself when things get rough.

Wilson is the latter and needs to cut it out. The Giants are going to be in a cutthroat battle for the Wild Card spot and perhaps the National League West crown.

The Rockies and Dodgers aren't going to have sympathy for a guy who's playing mind games with himself on the mound, especially not with a playoff position on the line.

I do think Wilson has the potential to be a good closer for this Giants team. He has an electric fastball and his slider is flat-out nasty when it is on.

However, he needs to have confidence that he can locate his slider, and not just hope it hits the strike zone or hitters will whiff at it.

Right now, he can't throw it consistently for strikes, and hitters are beginning to realize that, and just lay off it, which puts Wilson behind in the count constantly.

Once Wilson is able to find the strike zone with that slider and is able to develop a strong third pitch, he will be the kind of closer that will make it easier for Giants fans to stop longing for Nen.

He will be a dominant closer that will be worthy of an All-Star berth, unlike last season. The stuff is there. On stuff alone, Wilson is a top-five closer, no doubt about it.

Yet it's not all about stuff. It's a mental game as well, and Wilson has not developed that mental strength just yet to be a dominant closer in this league.

Hopefully he can start developing his approach on the mound soon. The Giants need him to be a good closer, especially with the division as tight as it is in the NL West.

With a 3.79 ERA, 34 hits allowed in 38 innings and four blown saves already (in comparison to the six he had all year), Wilson certainly has a lot to build on.


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