Why Giants Closer Brian Wilson Has Proven He Deserves His Role in the Bullpen

Kevin O'BrienCorrespondent ISeptember 6, 2009

SAN FRANCISCO - AUGUST 30:  Brian Wilson #38 of the San Francisco Giants pitches against the Colorado Rockies at AT&T Park on August 30, 2009 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

To be honest, I have never been that big of a Brian Wilson fan prior to this year.

I have been skeptical of his ability to take the ball in the ninth inning, and I felt that his All-Star selection last year was not as deserved as some other relief pitchers in the National League.

Even in the beginning of this season, I called him out and said that he needed to step it up if he really wanted to be the Giants' closer of the future.

How is he now?

Well...to put it nicely, Wilson has stepped up and has made my claims against him look foolish.

Because, as of now, there is no other pitcher in this Giants bullpen I want to have the ball in the ninth inning other than Wilson.

As Giants fans have seen throughout the year, many pitchers in this Giants bullpen have had their series of ups and downs.

Just when we thought Sergio Romo was being groomed as the team's closer, perhaps as soon as next season, he had a brutal stretch in July during which his ERA ballooned and he couldn't even get outs, let alone get out of innings.

The same goes with any other pitcher in this Giants bullpen. Justin Miller, Brandon Medders, Bob Howry, and even, to a point, Jeremy Affeldt. They all have been very dependable on some occasions, and well...not so much during other stretches.

Strangely enough, the guy who I thought was the most erratic reliever last year, and at times this year, has been a strong, consistent force for this Giants relief corps.

Is he perfect?

No, but Wilson's shortcomings don't seem as bad as they were a year ago.

If you look at him statistically, Wilson has improved in almost every category this season.

Last year, his ERA was 4.62. This year, it's 2.77. His WHIP last season was 1.44. This season it is down to 1.23. Opponents' batting average against him is down 30 points (from .261 to .231), his BB/9 ratio is down almost .60 points (from 4.04 to 3.46), and his K/9 ratio is up as well (from 9.67 to 9.97).

And he's doing this despite pitching more innings from last year.

In 2008, Wilson pitched 62.1 innings. This season he has pitched 65 innings, and with the Giants in the heat of a playoff run and the offense keeping games closer than they probably want, Wilson is going to see a lot more work in September.

I know there is a lot to not like about Wilson. His groundball-to-flyball ratio is down from last year (from 1.75 to 1.35), and he has matched his blown save number from last season already (six), but, for the most part, Wilson has done what the Giants have asked from him as closer.

What has sparked his resurgence?

If you want to look it casually, you could say he has gotten more comfortable in the role. After all, last year was his first year as closer, and while he did well in the first half, the second half of the season took its toll on him because he wasn't used to being in so many pressure-packed situations.

With a year under his belt, Wilson was bound to improve.

If you want to look it "sabermetrically," you could point to Wilson's change in pitch variety as a key to his success.

Last year, Wilson relied heavily on his fastball, slider, and cutter. He threw his fastball 70.9 percent of the time, his slider 14.7 percent of the time and his cutter 13.1 percent of the time.

In 2009, Wilson has almost eliminated his slider from his repertoire altogether. Instead, he relies almost solely on his fastball and cutter. He throws his fastball 69.5 percent of the time and throws his cutter 24.5 percent of the time. As for the slider, he only throws it 5.7 percent of the time, 9.0 percent less than last season.

Whether those percentages are a trend of improvement and ownership of his pitches, or a sign that he has lost confidence in his slider, who knows. However, the repertoire has worked so far this year, as evidenced by his strikeouts (72) and saves (34).

Sure, there has been a lot to be frustrated about with Wilson in the past two years. However, Wilson is the Giants' closer of the future, and, barring injury, Giants fans should get used to him coming into the ninth, not only for the rest of this year but next season and beyond.


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