Every so often I'll pretend I know something about statistics, and I'll tiptoe through the WAR rankings at FanGraphs or Baseball Reference. I'm not wild about the stat, but it's nice to have one number to look at, even if the only thing you do with it is question it. Even better, it's represented by wins. Replacing a two-win outfielder with John Bowker -- the patron saint of replacement level, I'm begrudgingly coming to admit -- will make a 90-72 team into a 88-74 team in theory. Easy enough.
Yet every time, I'll stare at the rankings for relievers. So puny. So sad. Sergio Romo has been a bad man, right? Sergio Romo am become destroyer of hitters this year. He's been worth two wins over a replacement level reliever. Actually, I half-seriously figured that Mota's WAR was 0.0, and then I looked it up. It's exactly 0.0. Amazing. That's so Mota.
So if Mota took all of Romo's innings this year, the Giants would have two fewer wins in theory. That's a big deal, of course. If the Giants had two more wins than they really do right now, this September would be a lot more interesting. Two wins is a big deal.
But Romo is a garbage bag filled with uncut, pure awesome. It seems weird that the difference between him and Mota is just two wins. It feels like it should be eleventy wins, at least. Nothing against Mota, but Romo's been that good. And if you want to go further down the rabbit hole, note that the difference between Romo and Jeremy Affeldt is about a single win.
Which is all a long-winded intro to say: I think I get it now, though. I think I get why relievers might not make the individual difference that we might expect. This all came about because Brian Wilson was hurt, and no one really noticed.
Most of that has to do with the work that Santiago Casilla did in Wilson's absence, sure. With Wilson out, Casilla pitched 11-2/3 innings, striking out 17 and walking three. Fantastic work.
Closers can get MVP and Cy Young votes. Wilson finished over both Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum in the Cy Young voting last year, for example. Wilson finished just behind Buster Posey in the MVP voting. And now that the Giants were without Wilson for a month -- or was it two? I can't remember -- without really making a difference, I'm ready to accept that relievers just don't make that much of a difference in the grand scheme of things.
Maybe this is just because we're almost 365 days away from Wilson closing out the NLDS, NLCS, and World Series, and I'm just an ungrateful twit now.
Whoops. How did that get there? Must have hit a keyboard shortcut or something.
It's moments like the Howard strikeout that make me renounce WAR and start talking about guts and moxie. The trust a team and fanbase has in its closer isn't something that can be measured on an abacus, you nerds! The positive outcomes really bring out the straw hat in me.
I was always keen to the idea that even the best relievers still don't make a huge difference, but I'm not sure if I really believed it. It took a month without Brian Wilson to turn me fully around, even if I'm acutely aware that if Casilla blew three straight saves, this is probably an article with a different thesis. But I don't think Brian Wilson is one of the five most important Giants. He probably isn't one of the top ten. Yet he'll be making a lot of clams next year to do what he does, and it will make a difference as to which hitters the Giants pursue. He might be doing more harm than good, depending on what the Giants would do if his salary weren't around.
Not saying the Giants should trade Wilson -- they certainly wouldn't, so it's probably not worth writing about. Just noting that I've had a bit of an unfortunate epiphany that some of you might have had already. I like Brian Wilson. I'm glad he's the closer. But when he was out of action, it wasn't that different.