The Brian Wilson Effect
In the baseball world, having a reliable, well-defined closer is a necessity in the bullpen. The closer is responsible for coming in and quelling any threats posed by the opponent’s offense at the end of the game. Nothing creates more heartache for fans and lowers team morale like blowing leads and losing games in the ninth-inning that should fall into the win column.
Nevertheless, finding a pitcher with the right mentality and ability to dominate hitters can be difficult. Although it may sound simple, few pitchers in baseball fit the bill for this important role. Three important qualities are necessary in a quality closer: a signature pitch, the ability to handle stress, and a short memory. Closers need to be able to pitch well while holding on to razor-thin leads with the game on the line in front of raucous crowds. On top of that, they must be able to easily flush bad memories out of their head. Every closer is bound to blow a save; the best in the business are the ones that can rebound the very next outing and pitch with supreme confidence.
From 1992-2002, the Giants had the luxury of a solid closer in Rod Beck from 1992-1997 and then Robb Nen from 1998-2002. During that span, the two Giants legends recorded 404 saves and provided Giants fans with peace of mind heading into the latter stages of a game.
After Nen’s retirement following the 2002 season, the Giants scrambled to replace him. 2003-2007 was filled with uncertainty as the Giants used 6 different closers over the 5 seasons. Tim Worrell, Matt Herges, Tyler Walker, LaTroy Hawkins, Armando Benitez, and Brad Hennessey combined to save an abysmal 158 games in 218 chances (72.4%). To add insult to injury, Giants fans watched as Joe Nathan, who was traded to Minnesota after the 2003 season, became one of the elite closers in the game for the Twins as the Giants bullpen blew lead after lead.
Nowadays, Giants manager Bruce Bochy is fortunate to have the dependable Brian Wilson in the bullpen to slam the door on opponents. Wilson, who debuted with the club in 2006, became the primary closer in 2008. In his first two seasons as closer, he amassed 79 saves in 92 chances (86%) and 88 saves in 103 chances (85.4%) throughout his Giants’ career. Both of these save conversion percentages are higher than that of three-time all-star Robb Nen. In 2010, Wilson is off to a fast start as he has two saves in two chances. Of the 10 outs he has recorded, four have been via the strikeout and opponents are batting just .091 against him.
Brian Wilson is the textbook closer. He consistently lights up the radar gun at 98 mph and has been known to hit 100 mph on occasion with his fastball that is nearly impossible to catch up to. Recently, his slider has become more effective and poses another problem to hitters. Wilson even looks the part. With tattoos and a faux hawk, he is a formidable presence on the mound. Furthermore, the man can handle pressure. The main downside to Wilson is he rarely makes saves easy. Wilson is known for allowing the tying or winning run to reach scoring position, striking fear into the hearts of Giants fans. Nevertheless, the numbers do not lie. While it may not always be pretty, Wilson consistently preserves leads and collects saves, something that has been lacking at China Basin since the conclusion of the 2002 season.
Alejandro Madrid is a broadcaster for USC’s student-run radio station, KSCR.org.