Brian Wilson earned his first save of the season on Wednesday, coming in to close out what was ultimately a 5-4 Los Angeles Dodgers victory over the Kansas City Royals. Wilson, a former All-Star closer, has been in the situation many times before and seemingly breezed through the ninth while only giving up a single hit.
The fact of the matter is, however, that Wilson has done anything but breeze through opposing batters this season. Dodgers manager Don Mattingly has continued to rely on Wilson despite a very rough start to the season, and looking at the standard numbers, has appeared to have been rewarded in his confidence in the setup man.
Over his last 19 appearances, Wilson and Mattingly can point to a sterling 0.61 ERA to indicate that the reliever has regained his form after struggling early in the season. The manager and reliever can also point to his 15 strikeouts that seem to indicate that Wilson is again making batters miss.
There is an issue here, and a potentially troubling one. While Wilson has only allowed one run during this time, opponents are still getting on base at a rate of .323, and while it may not be nearly as bad as Chris Perez’s .417, it still does not exactly inspire confidence in the reliever who is supposed to be the lights-out setup man.
Even many of the outs that Wilson has recorded have been on hard-hit balls. In the game against the Royals last night, Wilson was bailed out of a big inning when Scott Van Slyke snared a line drive that surely would have scored the tying run, and was ultimately able to end the inning on a double play at second base. One has to wonder whether or not Wilson is benefiting from simple fortune or if he has just been able to work himself out of jams.
So while Wilson has been able to record a number of scoreless innings over the past month, he has also allowed an alarming number of baserunners. Considering how his season began, this can either be viewed as progress or it can be viewed as a stretch of luck.
Of course, the Dodgers must hope that it is progress, as the bullpen has been their biggest weakness this season. Mattingly’s faith in Wilson is admirable, as many other managers would have moved the reliever out of the setup role in order to place him in more lower-leverage situations.
If Wilson is able to regain the form that made him a dominant reliever over the last half of the 2013 season, Mattingly will be lauded for allowing Wilson to work through his struggles while maintaining his role as setup man.
It does not appear that there is anything wrong with Wilson’s mechanics and his stuff, as there is little difference from last year to this one. The main concern should be Wilson’s control, as his high walk rate is one of the primary reasons he has allowed so many baserunners this season.
It is clear that the Dodgers need Wilson to be effective. The bullpen seems to be coming around, but the ineffectiveness of Perez and Paul Maholm may be causing some of the relievers to become overworked too early in the season. It should not be surprising if a trade for a reliever is high on Ned Colletti’s to-do list as the trade deadline looms.
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