So Brian Wilson Is the Setup Man Now, Isn’t He

September 25, 2013 at 10:36 am | Posted in Brian Wilson | Leave a comment

wilson_2013-09-07

The only thing better than seeing Yasiel Puig crush a homer off of Matt Cain in the 2-1 Dodger victory on Tuesday night was seeing Matt Kemp do the same thing, because if Kemp is back, then this Dodger offense has a completely different look to it. But without shortchanging either of them, or Hyun-jin Ryu, who contributed yet another good start in what’s been a shockingly good season for him, the main takeaway from the game for me is Brian Wilson, who returned to his former home to strike out two in a scoreless eighth inning, keeping a one-run lead for Kenley Jansen to finish off in the ninth.

Granted, Gregor Blanco and Juan Perez aren’t exactly the heart of the Giants order, but it was still an impressive performance — and with a 0.73 ERA in 16 games as a Dodger along with the struggles of Ronald Belisario and Paco Rodriguez, Wilson looks to have gained Don Mattingly‘s trust enough to be Jansen’s main setup man headed into the playoffs. The almost zero-risk signing that was so controversial back in July seems to have paid off and then some for Ned Colletti.

But how much of it is for real? You know I don’t put a lot of stock in ERA, especially for relievers, and doubly so over a span of only 12.1 innings. Let’s look a little deeper and see what Wilson is really providing.

Turns out, the news is good — mostly. Throughout Wilson’s first few weeks with the club, my concern was that his velocity was down and that he wasn’t really missing a ton of bats, striking out just six in his first 11 appearances, but my hope had been that after such a long layoff he needed some time to get back up to speed. That’s basically what has happened, with six whiffs in his last five appearances, and steadily increasing velocity:

wilson_pitch_velo

 

Wilson’s cutter velocity has been trending upwards over the last few weeks, going from an average in the high 80s to just under 92 last night. His fastball was even more impressive, touching 95, but I focus on the cutter here because it’s been a pitch he’s been using more and more for a few years, which aligns with what he told reporters after his first minor league rehab stint, throwing “four or five cutters” among his eight pitches.

You can see that change in pitch selection charted across his career, because he used to be a fastball-first kind of guy:

wilson_pitch_usageAlthough there were reports that he was working on a slider and a change-up, that hasn’t materialized yet, and he’s almost entirely a two-pitch pitcher at this point. It’d be nice if there were some more variation there, I suppose, but he’s making it work so far, especially in that he’s walked just three. That was always the main strike against him, that even when he was saving 40+ games for the Giants, that he’d often have trouble getting the ball over the plate. If he’s managed to rein that in somewhat — perhaps by not throwing as hard as he used to — then he can still be effective, just in a different way.

Even Giants fans were impressed last night, so that’s something:

Except … he looked good. Like, really good. He had velocity and command. Remember the rumors that he was working out at USF with Giants people in attendance? What in the hell happened? How were they not seeing that? What, the bullpen was filled with irreplaceable talents?

Still, it’s hard to be effective when you’re not even topping 90 mph, so the fact that his velocity has steadily improved over the last two months is a wonderful sign. No one should get too worked up over that 0.73 ERA, of course, because it’s just not a number that means a whole lot over a short amount of innings for a reliever, but thus far, Wilson looks to be one of the better acquisitions of the season. Going into the playoffs, he’s arguably the second-best reliever behind Jansen.

That’s not a thing I thought I would ever write, yet here we are. Never stop being weird, baseball. Never stop.

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