Andrew Baggarly recently had a blog post where he covered a wide range of issues. One of things covered in Baggs’ post was the condition of Giants’ closer, Brian Wilson. Baggarly reports that Wilson is down 15 pounds in an effort to stay healthier in 2012.
Here’s the pertinent parts:
Wilson said his injuries last season were a direct result of pushing hard down the playoff stretch in 2010, then refusing to dial back his usually rigorous offseason workouts. He’s doing a lot more baseball movement work, cardio and flexibility and less lifting for bulk.
Wilson will be held back this spring and might not face hitters until a week or two after the rest of the pitchers. He says his elbow feels fine and he’s expecting to be healthy.
Brian Wilson is in the last year of his two year, $15M contract that he signed in March, 2010. (He’ll still be arbitration eligible in 2013, so the Giants will retain one more year of his services if I’m reading things correctly.) Wilson went from being somewhat overrated in 2008 (41 saves, 3.93 FIP) to genuinely being one of the top three relievers in baseball from 2009-2010. Unfortunately, things didn’t go as well for Wilson and the Giants last season. He scuffled; his strikeouts declined to the lowest they’d been since 2006 and his walk rate, something he had been whittling down each season since 2006, shot up to a 5.07 walks per nine innings.
Oh, and there were injuries.
Wilson missed 30 games with what the team called “right elbow inflation”. He didn’t have surgery on his arm this offseason. Instead, the Giants opted to let Wilson rest — forgoing any throwing in the offseason — with the hope that his right arm would sort itself out.
A couple of graphs on Wilson and then a few thoughts …
Brian Wilson’s fastball in 2010:
Brian Wilson’s fastball in 2011:
As you can see from the 2010 graph, Wilson generally threw his fastball between 95-96 miles per hour. However, in 2011, his fastball was closer to 94 mph. On the surface, a difference of 1-2 mph might not sound like a big deal, but the velocity loss combined with the inability to throw strikes is something of a red flag. I’m of the opinion that it’s generally too risky to lock up large sums of money into closers, or any reliever, really. The premium placed on “closing mentality” might not be what it once was, but it’s still there. And that’s not to say that there isn’t a mental aspect to it, but paying big bucks for it might not be the way to go.
The good news it that things like control and strikeouts tend to stabilize pretty quickly for pitchers. If Wilson comes into camp healthy, throwing strikes, and with the same velocity he had in previous years, it’ll go a long way suppressing any fears I might have. I think the Giants obviously value Wilson, and the kind of stability he’s brought to ninth inning duties, but because he’s coming off a season with issues, and relievers can be a flaky group, the team should proceed with caution. The saving point for the Giants could be that the team will control Wilson through arbitration for 2013 regardless of how he does in 2012. The Giants could do themselves a huge favor if they take a wait-and-see approach with Wilson. The team might be chomping at the bit to get talks going with Wilson — the front office has consistently included Wilson’s name with Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain in regards to contract extensions — but, at the moment, any deal would be too risky.
A long-term Brian Wilson extension is something that haunts my dreams. It’s a shame, too. Dude has been a pretty great pitcher since he put on a Giants uniform. But, as we’ve seen first hand, bad contracts can really hamstring a team. Like really hamstring a team. I’m talking about a “can’t pay Beltran because we’re still paying millions of dollars to Aaron Rowand to not play baseball for our team” scenario. Pfft. Like that could ever happen.