Tuesday, August 09, 2011

A Lesson from Giants' Pitcher, Brian Wilson

A friend (thanks, Dennis!) took me to a SF Giants' game on Friday night, where I had the wonderful opportunity, not only to see the game with someone who could explain the nuances to me, but also to see the power of focus in the relief pitcher, aka the 'closer', Brian Wilson.

For most of the game, I watched other pitchers work. From this, I learned that the pitcher is the one person in baseball who really is in charge. Nothing happens till the pitcher lets go of that ball. Everyone else -- on both teams -- is reacting. The batter is reacting to the pitcher's pitch. The catcher, the infield and the outfield are all reacting to the batter's actions.

Yes, the pitcher must take into account the handedness of the batter, along with all sorts of other peculiarities, as well as the wind, and maybe even whether it's day or night. But he can practice in all sorts of conditions and with all sorts of goals -- putting different spins on the ball, hitting different areas of the strike zone, pitching at different speeds. So to some degree, the best pitcher is the one who practices the most.

And what does that take? Focus. 

In his day, the basketball player, Larry Bird, was renowned for his amazing free throw percentage -- .886, which was significantly higher than anyone else's. Why? Practice, practice, practice. He was renowned also for the interminable hours he spent shooting those free throws.

The special talent of the 'closer', that is, the relief pitcher who specializes in ending games in which his team is ahead by 1 - 3 runs, is the ability to perform under pressure. What is that? Focus, again.

You can see it in Brian Wilson. When he's on the mound, it's clear that for him, there is no one else around, except the batter. His focus is on his internal process. He's more into his own core than any of the other pitchers I watched (and there were 3 others, because pitchers get tired after about 100 pitches and so can't pitch an entire normal game).

The evidence is in the statistics:

  1. SavesWhen a relief pitcher enters a game in which his team has a 1, 2, or 3 run lead and this pitcher finishes the game without letting the other team tie or win the game, then he gets a Save. There have been 1095 save opportunities in the National League this year resulting in 819 saves (75%). WIlson has had 35 save opportunities and achieved 31 saves (89%). 
  2. Earned Run Average (ERA). This is how many runs a pitcher gives up, on average, in 9 innings of pitching, so the lower it is, the better the pitcher. League average is 3.90, while Wilson's is 2.77. 

So what is the lesson from Brian Wilson? The power of focus. 

Of what is that focus comprised?

  • Shutting out all distractions
  • Being in your core, very alert to what's going on inside you
  • Practice, practice, practice

No comments: