Green and confused spring-training novice that I am, I bought a lawn ticket to Saturday's Giants/A's game. It was St. Patrick's Day. It was like a nature show on the mating habits of drunk 20-somethings. David Attenborough was hiding behind a bush, narrating the whole thing.
It was the largest crowd that I've ever seen for a spring-training game, and there wasn't a lot of interest in the in-game action. Not suggesting that it was a park filled with fair-weather fans -- most of them built a vacation around a baseball team, which requires at least some level of commitment -- but there wasn't a lot of interest in the on-field action. Heck, it's spring. Of course not. But when Pablo Sandoval hit a high, arcing home run, there wasn't that familiar, off-the-bat buzz that home runs usually have. It was a different crowd.
But when House of Pain started blasting over the speakers, everyone started paying attention. Man, how I wish I had a nickel for every time I've used that sentence in my life. When Wilson came in, the crowd went nuts. Everyone stopped to cheer. People in Wilson shirseys and Irish-themed Wilson shirts exchanged high-fives.
He wasn't just a reliever, some fungible commodity that could be replaced with any hard-throwing reliever who didn't vomit when confronted with a stressful situation. He was something that the folks with the plastic cups came to see.
And if you've followed the Giants for a while, you get it. One of the reasons that Steve Finley ▬▬▬ ▬▬ ▬▬▬▬ bullshit ▬▬▬▬ dammit ▬▬▬▬ off Wayne Franklin was because Dustin Hermanson wasn't a very good closer. Or was it Matt Herges? I can't remember.
After that, there was Armando Benitez, who neatly coincided with the decline of the Giants empire. When closers fail, closers get noticed. And after a post-Nen stretch like that, a closer who succeeds -- and does the little things, like closes every series-clinching game en route to a championship -- becomes a folk hero. That's before adding in the personality, whether you think it's mostly manufactured or not. There are a lot of reasons why Giants fans go goofy for Wilson.
But this is a projection of how Wilson will do in 2012, not how he'll be remembered by Giants fans in 2032. There's reason to be skeptical.
You can see the decline of his fastball. That's not the end of the world. Other pitchers have continued to stay effective after losing their elite fastball. But it's a red flag.
Another red flag, possibly the size of something that would drape the stands at a Chinese soccer match: His BB/9 of 5.1 last year. Five walks for every nine innings. He was hurt. He was ailing. He wasn't himself. But still: five walks for every nine innings. Gremlins and pixies helped his ERA stay as low as it did. He allowed a ton of runners for a closer.
So predicting Brian Wilson's 2012 is a simple endeavor. You just have to decide if it was an off year because of an injury that's fixed now, or an injury that has dreadful long-term ramifications. There's no real evidence either way. He's throwing in the low-90s this spring, which doesn't mean all that much, considering that he hasn't thrown a ton in game situations. It's still spring training. Velocity concerns aren't that uncommon in the spring, and I'm worried more about the control/command than the fastball.
You don't have to be cynical in a Giants-centric kind of way to predict bad things; you just have to be cynical about the health of pitchers in general. You don't have to be a fanboy or fangirl to think good things, but it helps. Give me the middle ground to avoid looking like a complete fool.
S: I dunno. Do we predict these? 39. I predict 39 saves.