To the best of my knowledge, nobody has appointed me as president of label assignments, but I think calling Brian Wilson a great reliever is a worthwhile argument. He holds a 3.04 FIP over his 253-inning career and a 2.13 FIP this season in 65 innings. Wilson might be the best reliever in the National League and if he’s not, he’s probably still worthy of discussion.
It’s Friday night and the Giants are playing the Padres. It’s the top of the ninth inning with the Giants batting. The bags are full as they attempt to build on a one-run lead. Wilson – who entered in the eighth to record two outs with a runner on – is due up. Buster Posey is available to pinch hit – although evidently the Giants wanted to avoid playing him at all costs – and the bottom of the Padres’ lineup is due up in the bottom half of the inning. Righty Ryan Webb is on the mound. The Giants do not pinch hit and Wilson hits into an unorthodox double play (Juan Uribe was called for interference after grabbing the catcher’s leg while sliding by at the plate).
The Giants won the game, quenching any potential steam from the decision, but wasting time on a moot point has never stopped me before, so here we go. In The Book, Tom Tango (and company) found the difference in conversion percentage with at least a three-run lead in the ninth between a “great” pitcher and an “average” pitcher to be 2%. The Giants had used a few relievers on the night, but still had someone like, say, Jeremy Affeldt available for duty.
Now, the obvious thing here is there is no guarantee the Giants score a run no matter who bats. Wilson had nine career plate appearances in the bigs entering Friday and had never actually reached base. Maybe Wilson puts on laser shows during batting practice … but I doubt that. My assumption is that just about anyone is an upgrade. Here are the players on the Giants’ active roster who had not been used in the game, with their season-long wOBA (not including players with fewer than 50 plate appearances to give Bruce Bochy even more breathing room) taxed to include the 10% pinch hitter penalty:
In order to justify not making the switch, one must believe that either: A) Wilson is a good hitting pitcher; B) the rest of the Giants’ pen is horri-awful; or C) both. Perhaps my initial reaction to bury Bochy in a snarkophagus was too strong, but I still think pinch-hitting is the best decision in the situation.