2014 Dodgers In Review: Brian Wilson

MLB 61 48.1 24.2% 13.0% 4.66 4.29 4.25 -0.4

What Happened In 2014: That was money well-spent!

Have we really not done a Brian Wilson review yet? Still? Sigh. I don’t want to do this any more than you do. Then again, it’s a cold January Sunday with little else going on. Fine. Whatever. Fair warning: This won’t be nearly as well-researched as when Amy stepped in last year.

Anyway, it appears I didn’t hate this signing, which doesn’t look great in retrospect:

At first glance, I’m relatively pleased with this. I think. Obviously, the Dodgers badly needed another bullpen arm after non-tendering Ronald Belisario, and for a while I thought for sure some team would go nuts and give him a three year guarantee for like $30 million. So to get him for a single guaranteed year is a nice win, even if it’s more likely than not he’s exercising that second year too.

$10m is probably a lot for a guy who has been healthy for about two months of the last two seasons, especially when you think that maybe Jim Johnson or Edward Mujica could have been had for that much or less. On the other hand, there’s no doubt that he strengthens the bullpen, and I think we keep forgetting just how ridiculous the new Dodgers are. Would it have been better for $6m or $7m or $8m? Sure. Is it really going to prevent them from signing someone else? No, not really.

Wonderful. At least he entertained us in spring with a random knuckleball…

GIF Link

…and that was about the last positive thing he did all year. Well, fine, he struck out two in a scoreless inning in Australia, but he then immediately blew the first game of the domestic season. Maybe that should have been a warning sign, but it was quickly forgotten when he landed on the disabled list with a sore right elbow. I’m pretty sure at the time that I figured he’d be lost for the season. He came back after just the minimum stay on the DL. That didn’t end up being a good thing.

We sure wrote about him a lot, though. In mid-April, Brim looked at Wilson’s reluctance to throw inside. A few days later, Wilson blew a game against the Phillies. Dustin was not pleased:

Wilson has become unreliable after giving up four runs in the ninth inning of the Dodgers’ 7-3 loss to the Phillies on Thursday night. So, what the hell is wrong with Brian Wilson? I don’t know. I don’t particularly care. He didn’t have a long enough spring training, his surgically repaired elbow is acting up, he’s actually still a Giant at heart — whatever the case, he can’t be throwing in high-leverage situations right now.

It didn’t get better. If you were merely to look at the box score for the Cincinnati game on May 26, you’d see that Wilson allowed no runs. That’s, ah, not exactly what happened:

That brought on Brian Wilson, and, well, we’re really going to have to have a serious talk about Brian Wilson. Wilson struck out Devin Mesoraco. That’s good! But that was about all that was good about Wilson, because after he walked Skip Schumaker to load the bases (!), he allowed Billy Hamilton to double (!!), scoring two to make it 4-3. (This will get lost in the midst of everything else, but it has to be noted that Yasiel Puig made an outstanding play to get the ball into the cutoff man so quickly, all but certainly preventing the tying run from scoring.)

Just remember how down we were on Wilson in May:

Even Don Mattingly started talking about how worried he was. You know what, though? For a while, it did get better. It was hard to tell, because due to that bad start his ERA was over 5.00 until August, but Wilson had a run of six weeks from mid-May until the end of June where he allowed only a single earned run. I tried to remind people of this in early July

The bullpen still exists, and you best prepare yourself for a slew of “Brian Wilson is the worrrrrrrrrrrst” reactions from your friends and co-workers, even though that’s not, you know, accurate. Yes, he had some tough games early in the season. Yes, a 4.66 ERA entering today looks bad, as though we don’t already know that ERA for relievers is useless. Here’s the actual facts: in his last 19 games (yes, arbitrary endpoints, though aren’t they all?), stretching back six weeks or so, he’d pitched 16.2 innings with an 18/7 K/BB and one single earned run. No, that doesn’t mean he’s “fixed,” no, that doesn’t mean he’s obviously the right choice, but it does mean that when you hear people talking about cutting him or DFA’ing him or whatever, they’re just uninformed.

…and again in August:

Mattingly made those comments on May 15. Since then, Wilson, has a 2.05 ERA / 2.64 FIP.

You could attribute the rebound to Mattingly’s comments, though that would be silly, foolish and without any actual connection. You could say that it’s because Wilson himself admitted that he’d spent weeks of the spring quietly trying to pitch through discomfort, brought on by an attempt to be ready for the unusually early foreign start to the season, and in the process managed to trash the first two months of the years trying to get right. There seems to be some validity to that. You could also point out this: Wilson is simply throwing different pitches now.


See that orange line? That’s a curveball. He threw it zero times in April; now it’s the pitch he’s using more than anything but his cutter.

And Wilson really was better in the second half (17.8 K%-BB%, 3.63 FIP) than he had been in the first (8.0, 4.68). There was hope, for a while, really, even though Wilson’s reputation had become far too poisoned for anyone to care. But in early September, Brim noted some serious velocity issues

Yikes. Wilson’s velocity has been on a steep downward trend for most of the season. In April, Wilson’s four seam fastball was averaging 94.2 mph. He hasn’t thrown the pitch in September, but in August it was averaging 91. His sinker has gone from 93.2 mph average to 89.3 mph average. His cutter, which he throws more than half of the time, has gone from 90.6 mph to 86.7 mph. Wilson has lost four miles per hour velocity average across all of his hard stuff this season alone.

…which allowed me to have some fun on Sept. 22 in response to Wilson’s claim that he could suddenly find velocity in the playoffs. Wilson made the playoff roster and made just one appearance, pitching the eighth inning of Game 3, retiring one of three Cardinals. On Nov. 3, he exercised his $9.5m player option to return, but he was DFA’d on Dec. 16 and released on Dec. 19. What a terribly disappointing end to a terribly disappointing season.

2015 status: Unsigned, unloved, and unwanted.

About Mike Petriello

Mike writes about lots of baseball in lots of places, and right now that place is MLB.com.