The San Fransisco Giants received a bit of bad news this weekend when Brian Wilson announced that he will undergo Tommy John Surgery, effectively ending his 2012 season after just two appearances. Wilson has developed a cult following over the past few years, mostly because of his fantastic beard and the birth of the “The Machine”. Just a few hours ago, I watched the series finale of Eastbound and Down and after watching this video of Brian Wilson, I’m 100% convinced that Kenny Powers was based off of Wilson.
As an enigma, nobody can come close to matching Brian Wilson. But as a reliever? There are many better relievers. And one of them is a fellow San Fransisco Giant.
Wilson has clearly rubbed off on Sergio Romo, as evident by the massive patch of fur on his chin in the picture above. Romo has been a middle reliever for the Giants since 2008, which was also the year that Wilson took over the closing job. Since then, Wilson has collected 164 saves, which is the most in Major League Baseball during that time frame (Mariano Rivera is second at 162), at an 88% success rate. Obviously, Romo hasn’t had the chance to put up those kinds of numbers and when people look at relievers they often assume that the players that get saves are inherently better.
But that is far from the truth. While he may not pitch in the ninth inning, that doesn’t spare Romo from being inserted into high tension situations. Another common misconception about closers is that closing out the ninth inning is the toughest assignment simply because everything is on the line. That isn’t always the case. A closer facing off against a team’s 6-7-8 hitters happens just as often as a closer facing off against a team’s 3-4-5 hitters. And more often that not, if a pitcher gets into a jam in the seventh or eighth inning, it’s a reliever like Romo that is given the assignment of shutting off the rally while closers often enter the game with a clean slate to work with.
While Wilson has the flashy stats that earn him the reputation as a shutdown closer, Romo was actually the better pitcher last season. Regardless of who has the more saves between the two, it’s hard to find any evidence to support Wilson as a superior performer last season. Romo has a far superior walk rate, a far superior FIP, far superior WAR produced, a superior strikeout rate and a superior left on base percentage. Wilson had 36 saves last year to Romo’s one, but this is a great example of why saves shouldn’t be viewed as the end-all-be-all when analyzing relief pitchers.
With Wilson out many belief that Romo is in line for the closer job but again, that role is an artificial one created for novice’s to understand the game better. And that shouldn’t be the case. Closing out games should be a team effort with whatever pitcher that matches up best getting the call (lefty specialist, ground ball pitcher, etc.). And with Romo providing Bruce Bochy with a very effective arm that can perform in any situation and in any inning, the Giants’ bullpen should be just fine without Brian Wilson this year.