Brian Wilson Has Thought This Whole Thing Through

brianwilsonMaybe you’ve seen the commercials and are tired of them. Maybe you didn’t like the gimp interview. Maybe you think the hair is ridiculous. That’s fine with Brian Wilson. There might be some ancillary benefits to the way he portrays himself on and off the field, but this is more about his work on the mound. Because, to him, the most important facet of pitching is confidence.

Take, for example, the knuckleball he threw the other day in a spring training game. Thanks to Grant Brisbee for the GIF:

wilson-knuckler

I asked him if he was just screwing around. “I never [expletive] around, it’s an out pitch,” Wilson responded. That sort of seems ridiculous at first, given what you know about Wilson. It’s not.

You realize this a little more as you talk to him about his craft. Let’s say you talk about the cutter, which he’s gone to increasingly more often over the course of his career. It’s just the “opposite of a two-seamer,” the natural result of learning how to throw the ball “middle-finger dominant.” Does he throw it too much? “Is it any different than a lefty-handed specialist who comes in and throws slider after slider?” Wilson threw the cutter more than anyone not named Mariano Rivera last year, and he doesn’t have the platoon splits of a righty-only reliever. Does he do it with command? “Ask the hitters.” It’s confidence, is the sense you get.

Even with the knuckleball, the story is the same. He taught himself the knuckler — “everyone in this locker room has a knuckler” — and he’s not scared to throw it this year. “Why would you be scared? I don’t understand,” said the Dodgers reliever, “I’ve seen a lot of lot of home runs on 100 mph fastballs and a lot of people think that’s the best pitch on earth, I’ve seen Mariano give up runs and he’s got arguably the best pitch in the history of baseball.” Once again, there’s this lack of fear that’s pervasive in his image and his approach.

He’ll open up about it and specifically address the role of confidence, too. “If you’re not positive when you pitch, it doesn’t matter” how good you are, he says. Pitching is simple to Wilson: “You just need to be more confident than the hitter.”

Watch batting practice, and you’ll see batters pop up pitches that are 60 mph heaters. Wilson also points out that there have been many pitchers in baseball that have had marginal talent and played a lot of years — “they were more intelligent than the hitter.” They had no fear. “Most of the time you fail, you had fear,” Wilson says. “I don’t know the percentage of preparation, skillset, training, diet, mindset,” go into baseball, he continues, “but I do know that you have to have a brain in order to pitch — you can do all the other stuff physically, but if you don’t have determination behind it, then all the mechanical stuff goes out the window.”

It’s not an act in the way that some might fear. It’s not all bravado designed to make fans gravitate towards him, or to sell books or products or whatever. Not in the immediate sense. No, it’s more that Wilson is showing the confidence that he believes necessary to his job. Listen to him talk about the need to eradicate “I hope” from your mental lexicon: “You’re going to give up a home run if you think about not giving up a home run.”

Brian Wilson is acting confidently because he believes in the power of positive thinking, in effect. And that’s not crazy at all. Players that approach competition as a challenge rather than a threat have shown to be more successful, and the authors of the Mental Game of Baseball would also approve of his confident approach. Think positively, act confidently, even if it comes with a crazy haircut.

Thanks to Arturo Parvadilla for the header image.




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Graphs: Baseball, Roto, Beer, brats (OK, no graphs for that...yet), repeat. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris.

19 Responses to “Brian Wilson Has Thought This Whole Thing Through”

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  1. walt526 says:

    Why does the pitch type leaderboard not match Wilson’s page? On the latter, it looks like all of his cutters are being misclassified as sliders.

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  2. Yinzer says:

    Brian Wilson, voice of reason?

    Crazy things happen on Pi Day.

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  3. scotman144 says:

    I enjoyed this article a lot. It’s tough to tell if Wilson is a tough interview because the succinct quotes can go both ways. This definitely lends a lot of credence to the positives of a “bulldog mentality” on the mound.

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    • Eno Sarris says:

      I absolutely enjoyed talking to him. He was a little crazy around the clubhouse, but he’s just intense and I think it serves him well.

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      • Hurtlockertwo says:

        There is no doubt that a lot of this is an act, but the guy is serious about pitching. I enjoyed watching and listening to him when he was with the Giants. It’s very odd to see him in a Dodgers uniform.

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      • Bip says:

        It sounds like he doesn’t appreciate your questions, almost like he thinks you’re stupid for even asking. I don’t know what he’s like, so maybe he just talks like that way without actually meaning any offense, but I would probably be put off talking to him at first.

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  4. The Stranger says:

    I am so torn on how to feel about Brian Wilson. He comes across as kind of smart and funny, in a self-aware, irreverent way. On the other hand, he comes across as kind of an enormous douchebag. On the gripping hand, 90% of how he comes across is probably an intentional construct for the dual purposes of marketing and maintaining some privacy. So I guess I’m leaning towards anointing Brian Wilson as a modern-day folk hero until further notice.

    Also, I think he’s got the right idea about pitching, though there’s a non-zero chance he got it from Bull Durham.

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  5. scrivenergm says:

    Really liked this article. Thanks Eno. Another look at a fascinating character. I’d love to see him throwing some knuckleballs this year.

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  6. Bri Guy says:

    You can’t argue with the fact that the guy almost had his career taken from him and has battled through quite a bit in the last few years. You see athletes in all sports unable to come back from injuries because although the physical may have recovered, sometimes the mind never does, and the result is a running back can’t make himself cut as hard or a pitcher is afraid to twist that slider the same way he used to. Props to Brian for being candid about his job, which can be a grind like any other, regardless of the paycheck.

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  7. markjd says:

    this was great. good work Eno.

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  8. Rufus T. Firefly says:

    Thanks, Eno.

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  9. Dave says:

    Seems to be a problem on the pitch type leaderboard. According to this article: http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/baseballs-new-most-dominant-pitch/, Kenley Jansen throws 89% cutters. Wilson is at 75% on the leaderboard, and Jansen doesn’t show as throwing ANY cutters (he shows 94% fastballs)

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    • Shamus Mcfitzy says:

      The pitch type leaderboard is based on Baseball Info Solutions data (I think) and that article is citing Jansen’s Pitch F/X data.

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  10. DodgersKings323 says:

    Love this guy!

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  11. JrHustle says:

    It’s an out pitch. Plain and simple.

    Good for him.

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  12. Hason Jeyward says:

    Aha! So all those guys toiling away in the minors just need to be more confident. You hear that, Jeff Manship? Just be more confident! Stop being so afraid!

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  13. DoucheX says:

    Did he call you the worst ever, Eno?

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