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Plan B: With Brian Wilson out, who’s in?

March 19, 2011

Brian Wilson was shut down with a strained left oblique, and will be re-evaluated Monday. Wilson and manager Bruce Bochy said all the right things, but it’s hard not to conclude that this might make Wilson — who called the injury a “nuisance” — unavailable for Opening Day.

~Alex Pavlovic via Extra Baggs

Yup, you read that right. Our feared, bearded closer is down. Operation Sneak Through Spring Training with Nothing More to Worry About than Matt Cain‘s Elbow, is a bust. With any luck, Brian Wilson‘s injury won’t linger and all will be well soon, but even the optimist in me can’t believe that he won’t be missing a game or ten.

So, now what? Thankfully, its not 2004. Or 2005. Or…you get the idea. There is no one named Matt Herges in the bullpen, and Armando Benitez is thousands of miles away (with the Newark Bears apparently, so says Wikipedia). We should probably be running to sacrifice Dodger fans to the baseball gods for this blessing. There’s no need to throw ourselves down the stairs or drive off a cliff (knock on wood). Our bullpen is full of people who were are better than our best options in past years, and as long as the entire thing doesn’t implode at once (again, knock on wood), we can remain in our post-Championship bliss. Albeit with a little bit of worry in the mix.

The most common names to be bandied about to take over in the 9th inning seem to be Sergio Romo, Jeremy Affeldt, Javier Lopez, and Santiago Casilla. The first two are on the top of Bochy’s list. By the numbers, Romo wins the battle pretty easily. He tops everyone in K/BB and FIP, and he doesn’t give up much ground in HR/9 either, despite how much we worry about his long-ball tendencies. Oh, and he has that shiny new sinker he’s been showing off. But Romo is also the one with the smallest sample size. However much we’d like to, when you only have 82 innings to work with, its hard to put a lot of faith in a 6.06 K/BB ratio or 11.3 K/9 (his numbers vs. right-handed batters).

The shortest drop-off from Romo’s numbers is Javier Lopez, but only against lefties. This is no surprise. The Giants used Lopez as a LOOGY for a reason. He has a nice 7.37 K/9 and .46 HR/9 even if his walks (4.03 BB/9) are a little high. He also has this beautiful strikeout against Joey Votto which would be a Hall of Fame worthy GIF, if there was such a thing. But versus right-handers…I’ll just leave you with this: 145 IP, .98 K/BB.

Moving on.

It doesn’t really come as any surprise that Affeldt is one of Bochy’s favorites for closer. Its the same classic “proven veteran” response that we’ve all come expect from our now World Champion manager.  Its also completely illogical. Granted, Romo could start slow and Affeldt could go on a tear; or all our stat talk could get shattered by “closer intangibles”.  I can still see that neon “Small Sample Size” sign flashing over Romo’s head too. But for now at least, Romo has Affeldt thoroughly trounced in just about every statistical category ever, including fielding percentage (that there is your completely useless fact of the night).

One last option…Casilla wasn’t originally on my list actually, but his name kept popping up on Twitter, and all too soon there was a FanGraphs tab open with his name on it adding to the chaos that is my browser. There isn’t a lot I like about the idea of throwing Casilla on the mound with a one run lead. He strikes people out, but he walks them too and his ERA and FIP are all over the place from year to year. He has two things going for him though. The first, is that his numbers in 2010, across the board, were better than they’ve ever been by a pretty significant margin.  The second is that 96.6 mph average fastball. Its hard to not want a closer who can bring on the heat.

Conclusion: I had one of those until my train of thought not just derailed, but went careening off a cliff thanks to some very, very hypothetical roster-bating (you’ll see the results of that soon enough). But in short, and to agree with many, I’m on Team “Romo with a side of Lopez when the situation calls for super-LOOGY  powers” (as if you couldn’t already tell). If small sample size finally strikes down the ninja slider or Romo gets eaten by the BABIP dragon, then I think I’d be on Team Affeldt. That could change in an instant though if someone else takes off.

One last thought, and then I’m off to bed. If Wilson starts the year on the DL that leaves an open roster spot. It might be taken by another pitcher but it could also mean one  more of Aaron Rowand, Travis Ishikawa, Nate Schierholtz and…Brandon Belt? is with the big club on Opening Day.

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