PLAYER TO WATCH
Boxing or mixed martial arts? Closer Brian Wilson can go either way. Yes, the 27-year-old righthander has dabbled in kickboxing and Muay Thai training. Yes, his haircut (an unkempt Mohawk) and wardrobe (often T-shirts from One More Round, an MMA apparel company) both lean UFC. But Wilson also spent his childhood watching boxing on HBO and still appreciates the sport. As he puts it, "I just enjoy watching people beat each other up."
You can tell by the way he pitches. Wilson has a 97-mph fastball—the baseball equivalent of a Mike Tyson hook—and he keeps pounding it home, with little thought of ever letting up. The result: Wilson finished third in the NL with 38 saves, had a 2.74 ERA and struck out 83 in 72 1/3 innings. Every one of those saves was punctuated with a crossed-arms gesture after the final out, an MMA-inspired salute. "He's exactly what people would expect a closer to be," centerfielder Aaron Rowand says.
Pitching coach Dave Righetti guarantees that Wilson won't ever learn a curveball, but last year Wilson did unveil a quality second pitch: a cutter that helped reduce his batting average against versus lefthanded hitters from .202 in 2008 to .189. That, though, is about as off-speed as the fireballer can stand. "If I throw upper-90s, then what would I be doing with a changeup?" Wilson asks. "Most relievers can survive on two pitches. I feel like I can be one of them."
Strikeouts by Giants pitchers last season, most in the NL. The total was a franchise record—but more impressive, it broke the Cubs' stranglehold on the team K title. The last time a staff other than Chicago's led the league in whiffs? In 2000.
Since cutting ties with Barry Bonds after the 2007 season, the Giants have spent two years aggressively ignoring the team's on-base percentage. Nearly every player choice they've made has created more outs, leaving them with OBPs near the bottom of the league and a below-average offense—15th in the NL in runs two years ago, 13th last year—in support of an amazing pitching staff. It has to stop. The Giants have to play the guys who'll get on base, which means Buster Posey instead of Bengie Molina at catcher; Fred Lewis over Nate Schierholtz in right; Travis Ishikawa over the declining Aubrey Huff at first. The Giants don't need a great offense to win the NL West, just an average one. Assigning playing time to guys who make fewer outs could get them back to October.
WITH 2009 STATISTICS
Manager Bruce Bochy
4TH SEASON WITH GIANTS
*Triple A stats
TOM DIPACE (WILSON)
PUNCH OUT Wilson's ring mentality and power pitches are ideal for closing.
BRAD MANGIN (POSEY)