2013 Dodgers in Review #45: RP Brian Wilson

January 2, 2014 at 11:00 am | Posted in 2013 in Review, Brian Wilson | Leave a comment

90topps_brianwilson0.66 ERA / 2.52 FIP 13.2 IP 8.56 K/9 2.63 BB/9 (B)

2013 in review: Lottery ticket signing ended up becoming team’s primary setup man.

2014 status: Re-signed for $10m.

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Everyone thank Amy (@SpaceDodgersfor pitching in with a great job on reviewing Wilson. Thanks Amy!

Hey, remember Mike on July 29th, 2013?

Now before we discuss the merits of [signing Brian Wilson], we probably should discuss the elephant in the room: you hate him. Of course you do. He was a Giant, and not only was he a Giant, he was a huge part of their 2010 World Series title, even getting the final out. He’s a big weirdo with a giant, annoying, beard. He got into that thing with Casey Blake. He was in those tremendously irritating “Black Ops” Taco Bell ads. If Taco Bell was a place I would ever go to eat, ever, those ads would be enough to put a stop to that. I’M BLACK OPS.

If there’s such a thing as “good and evil” in the Dodgers / Giants rivalry these days, Wilson is probably the defining face of it.

And then, not so very long ago

Brian Wilson will return to the Dodgers for $10m in 2014. He also has a player option for 2015, reportedly between $9m and $10m depending on appearances.

At first glance, I’m relatively pleased with this. I think.

Brian Wilson has transformed from weird, hated Giant into a Dodger goofball whose two-year contract was met with an aggregate, easeful indifference. This wasn’t entirely unexpected. After signing Wilson to a $1m major league deal that would start in the minors until the end of the season, this seemed to be a pretty good idea. If Wilson was horrible, what was $1 million to multimillionaires? If Wilson was at least productive, then the signing was a steal. The signing turned out to be an absolute steal, for an incredibly small sample size.

In 13.2 innings pitched, Brian Wilson faced 49 batters, averaged 8.6 strikeouts, 2.6 walks, and 5.4 hits over nine innings. He struck out 13 batters in the regular season, and 7 of those were looking; of his 8 postseason strikeouts, 4 batters struck out looking (yes, I went back and counted). During the post season, Wilson faced 24 batters, posted a K/9, BB/9, and H/9 of 12, 3, and 6 respectively.

So I’m going to declare it here and let’s keep it in mind for the rest of this review: everything should be taken with a grain of salt due to the small sample size we’re dealing with.  In fact, the only statistic that has had a chance to stabilize is his strikeout rate, and only if we combine his regular and postseason statistics. Also, ignore all credit given on behalf of that incredibly shiny 0.66 ERA, since ERA for relievers is absolute rubbish, and even more so with small sample sizes.

Since Wilson’s strikeout rate only stabilizes if we include his postseason stats, let’s calculate his combined K/9 real quick.  Nevertheless, also keep in mind that, while “stable,” the numbers should still be accepted hesitantly. The last four stats in the following table quantify the looking and swinging strikeouts.

wilson_stats

Now, that said… Mike has said a bit about Brian Wilson’s success and has shown that there’s reason to be optimistic.

 …His velocity isn’t quite up to pre-surgery levels, but it was clearly trending in the right direction and allowed him to touch 96 at times. Perhaps unsurprisingly, his strikeouts increased along with it; in his first 10.1 innings, he struck out eight, while in his final 9.1 (including playoffs) he whiffed 13. Again, small samples and all that, but encouraging. He also walked only six, which is good not only because control is often the toughest thing to regain after surgery, but because he’d often had problems with that even at his best.

And our good friend, Grant Brisbee, wasn’t particularly pleased that the Giants missed out on Wilson during the NLCS,

Second, it’s annoying watching Brian Wilson in the postseason. Not because he looks like a piece of steel wool in a fight with a raccoon, but because he’s pitching like the guy we remember. … I’m talking about the 2010 version, who was pretty swell. One of the better relievers in Giants history, to be honest. The 2013 version doesn’t have as much heat, but he has the command, which is probably as important.

It turns out, that his command has improved, when compared to his 2011 regular and 2010 postseason, which is very encouraging. However, it’s not exactly the command he displayed in the 2009 and 2010 regular seasons.

The problem with percentages here is that we’re not seeing how many pitches he’s thrown. Namely, pointing out that 65% of 311 pitches land outside of the zone isn’t quite the same as 69% of 1,028 pitches. These are also his 2013 and 2011 season percentages via Brooks Baseball, respectively. So it is important to show the number of pitches thrown for each month to put those percentages into perspective.

But realistically, the number of pitches thrown outside of the zone doesn’t matter if the pitch results in a swing and miss; depending on your source, your perspective on his swing and miss ratio may vary. According to baseball-reference, Wilson posted a career high swinging strike ratio (without contact) at 18%.  Meanwhile FanGraphs has him around league average at 9.2%, which is not a career high.

To stay consistent with my source, I’m going to use Brooks Baseball’s swing and miss information.  FanGraphs defines “whiff” as percentage of swing and misses per swing. Brooks Baseball seems to interpret whiff rate as the percentage of swings that miss, explicitly distinguishing it from “Whiffs/Swing.” In this review, I use “whiff” in the same sense that Brooks Baseball does.

Brooks Baseball’s graph for Wilson’s whiff rate in and out of the zone for both the regular and postseasons is below, but does not describe the combined total swing and miss ratio.

From this graph, it is clear that Wilson is at a career high for getting batters to swing and miss on pitches inside the strike zone with 15.45% and averaged 7.96% whiffs outside of the strike zone. These final three images, in order, display Wilson’s pitch location frequency, swing rates, and whiff rates. The color indicates the frequency: bright red for high frequency and bright blue for low frequency. Darker shades show a relative median frequency.

In Figure 1 we see that Wilson liked to pitch outside, something that is already established so far. When Wilson actually did pitch inside the strike zone, we see that he tended to hit the lower quadrants. Figure 2 shows that batters swung when the pitch was in the strike zone. However, the swing frequency in the top half of the strike zone indicates that, on the rare occasion Wilson pitched there, batters swung. Furthermore, Figure 3 demonstrates that batters missed when they swung at pitches in the strike zone’s upper quadrants.

The pitch frequency along the sides in Figure 1 should be expected, since Mike already talked about Wilson’s more frequent use of his cutter. Nevertheless, the lack of whiffs in the lower half of the strike zone implies that most batted balls were hit in the lower half. Also, those pitches along the right side of Figure 1 indicate that Wilson should have walked more batters than he did, especially since batters almost never swung when his pitches landed there. Again, small sample size applies here, because his batted ball and walk ratio data is not stable.

But this raises a question: how does one pitch outside of the strike zone an average of 65% of the time, have a 52% strikeout looking rate (L/SO%), while getting most batters to swing inside the strike zone and most whiffs in areas he almost never pitched? Where do those pitches that strike batters out looking land? There is a chance that those pitches land in the bottom quadrants of the strike zone, but given his pitch location frequency and low walk rate, it’s more likely that most of those looking strikeouts were generously given.

The velocity and control Wilson has displayed so far is encouraging, but the fact that he struck out more batters looking than swinging should be a red flag to everybody.  Why?  Because that’s an indicator that the human element of the game blessed upon us by the home-plate umpire has played it’s part in Wilson’s success, and that’s not reliable.

Therefore, while Wilson’s post-surgery successes so far deserves high praise, the questionable data yielded on behalf of the provisionally small sample-size drops his grade from the popular A+ that many expected, to a B.

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Next! Javy Guerra existed!

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