Friday, August 5, 2011
Wilson's fastball key to success
The NL West battle continues to heat up in the dog days of summer, with the San Francisco Giants and Arizona Diamondbacks dueling for division title honors. The defending world champions struggle considerably on offense (393 runs scored ranks third-fewest in MLB), but shine on the mound. San Francisco’s biggest asset is likely its bullpen, which leads the majors in saves (40) and ranks third in ERA (2.92).
The success of the bullpen stems primarily from closer Brian Wilson. No pitcher has more than his 33 saves this season, and over the last two years he has a total of 81. Aside from Heath Bell (78), no other pitcher in the majors has more than 63 in that span.
While his fastball has lost nearly two miles per hour compared to last season (averages 94 mph in 2011), that doesn’t seem to be hurting its effectiveness. In 2011 opponents have an OPS of .597 against his heater. Last year that number was almost identical, at .601. But Wilson is reaching those numbers in different ways. Last season his fastball had a strikeout rate of 29.1 percent and a walk rate of just 8.2. In 2011 those numbers are 18.3 and 14.7 percent respectively.
Although his walk rate is up, opponents are posting a lower batting average versus his fastball. In 2010 that average was .223; this year it sits at .200. Clearly, Brian Wilson is continuing his roll from 2010, albeit via a slightly different path.
Fish Back in Water
Florida Marlins closer Leo Nunez has already eclipsed his single-season career high in saves (30, set last season), but it’s been an up and down season for the righty. After suffering through a rough June (5.79 ERA, 1.39 WHIP), Nunez settled down in July, notching an ERA of just 2.19.
The reason for the improvement can partly be attributed to his approach with two strikes. In June, Nunez threw 37 pitches on a two-strike count, but used his fastball just 12 times. Of those, he walked three batters and struck out just four. Compare that to July, when Nunez struck out six batters and walked none in the same situations. He also used his heater much more frequently (32 of the 55 times he faced a two-strike count).
After losing his status as Chicago Cubs closer midway through the season, Carlos Marmol has certainly made the most of his chances lately. Since Sunday, Marmol has notched four saves in as many appearances without allowing a run. In that stretch he’s also given up just a single hit, walked none and struck out six.