The Giant’s Brian Wilson is a fun player. He looks more rock star than ballplayer, what with his mop hair, tattoos and tight pants. He even brings his own brand pyrotechnics to the mound with a blazing fastball that at times has been clocked in the triple-digits. While Wilson accumulated 41 saves for the Giants last year, those saves came with a bloated 4.62 ERA. His 3.93 FIP indicates that he pitched a little better than his ERA, but that is not what you would by and large hope for from your closer.
This year, Wilson has emerged from being a .6 win player to a 2.3 win relief ace. 2+ wins represents the upper echelon for relievers. So why the improvement?
Wilson’s heater has long been his meal ticket. His average velocity has seen a nice bump from this year to last, from 95.7 to 96.5 MPH.
Not only has he been able to crank up the heat, but perhaps more importantly the pitch also has considerably more movement than before. Looking at his Pitch F/x numbers, Wilson’s fastball used to be straight as an arrow, averaging just less than half an inch of horizontal movement. This season, Wilson’s fastball has much more tail, with -3.5 inches of horizontal movement. It’s probably no coincidence that batters went from slugging .390 against Wilson in 2008 to just .301 this season.
What’s more, Wilson has improved upon his control. Last season he walked a little over 4 batters per nine innings, this season he’s down to about 3.4 per nine.
With an enhancement in ‘life’ to his fastball and increased control of the pitch, “B-Weez” has blossomed into one of the game’s best closers. Giant fans haven’t enjoyed this kind of “Smoke on the Water” in quite some time.