By now you’ve probably heard that Brian Wilson has a mild oblique strain. Please, step back from the ledge. Additionally, his status for Opening Day is in doubt. Henry Schulman broke the original report of Wilson’s injury on twitter, and expanded on it at his blog.
Bochy tried to be reassuring, saying, “Nothing is torn or anything,” but even he had to concede concern. Obliques are tricky injuries that usually sideline pitchers for about a month. Bochy said “I can’t go there yet” when I asked if Opening Day was in doubt, but do the math. The season starts in 12 days. Moreover, he was behind from the get-go because of his early-camp back injury. He has thrown only five Cactus League innings.
As Schulman states, Wilson was already behind in camp due to his back injury and the new oblique injury is almost certain to push him back past Opening Day. You’ll remember that Noah Lowry first battled oblique problems in 2006 before his body gave way to numerous other injuries. Not saying that there’s a connection, but Lowry is the first player I thought of when I heard Wilson’s oblique was hurting. Jeremy Affeldt also had oblique problems last season. According to the Baseball Injury Tool, Lowry missed 31 games in ’06 due to his oblique problems. Affeldt missed 28 games. Schulman’s statement that it usually sidelines a pitcher for a month seems right on the money.
Since taking over the closers role in ’08, Wilson has turned into one of the best relievers in baseball. He’s raised both his strikeout and walk rate in each season since. Over the past two seasons, no other reliever in baseball has posted a higher WAR (5.1) than Wilson. That includes perennial greats such as: Heath Bell (4.4), Joakim Soria (3.9), and even the great Mariano Riveria (3.8). Losing Wilson for any significant stretch of time hurts, and it could hurt badly.
At the moment, Bruce Bochy seems to be considering a closer by committee to fill Wilson’s orange, too-much-awesome cleats.
Bochy indicated that virtually everyone in the bullpen would be suited for closing if Wilson were sidelined for a substantial period. Specifically, Bochy cited Jeremy Affeldt, Javier Lopez, Sergio Romo and Santiago Casilla.
Romo is easily the best choice to take over the role against right-handed batters. Romo’s frisbee slider has been death to RHBs since he came into the league. Romo owns a career K/9 of 11.30 when facing RHBs. Pair that with a low, low BB/9 of 1.87 and Romo seems like an obvious choice. Bochy will probably want to limit his exposure to left-handed batters because he hasn’t dominated them in the same way (7.69 K/9, 3.00 BB/9, 4.16 xFIP), but he should be the go-to guy against righties.
Santiago Casilla is an interesting choice, but his tendency to walk batters (career 4.42 BB/9) should keep him out of the 9th. My blood pressure would appreciate it. Javier Lopez is the best lefty killer that the Giants currently have. His career numbers against LHBs isn’t the stuff of legend (7.37 K/9, 4.03 BB/9, 3.78 xFIP), but he’s been a little better at getting them out when compared to Affeldt (7.75 K/9, 4.63 BB/9, 4.12 xFIP). If the Giants are facing a lefty heavy lineup in a save situation, you’re most likely going to see either Lopez or Affeldt. Though, the more I look at it, Romo’s career numbers against LHB aren’t that much worse than either Lopez or Affeldt.
The Giants don’t have any high impact arms in the upper minors that could step into the bullpen to close games. Meaning that whatever solution the team finds will be on the current major league roster. Romo, in particular, has really been a nice reliever for the Giants over the past couple of seasons. If the Giants are looking to put their best reliever after Wilson in the 9th, Romo should get first crack. Let’s hope for the Giants that it’s just a temporary solution.