Originally posted on 22gigantes  |  Last updated 1/17/12

Forget about his beard.

What Giants fans really need to be concerned about is Brian Wilson‘s elbow.

San Francisco’s closer was limited to two relief appearances over the final six weeks of the 2011 season due to a strained right elbow.

The good news is—according to Henry Schulman at the San Francisco Chronicle—Wilson has begun playing hard catch from a distance of 90 feet and is right on schedule for the start of spring training.

Schulman says that once Cactus League action begins next month (check out our handy countdown clock in the sidebar to the right, by the way), the Giants may decide to have Wilson throw a couple of bullpen sessions versus pitching in live games until they are sure his elbow is in tip-top condition. (You may remember Wilson got off to a slow start last spring, too, when he started experiencing back spasms shortly after he arrived to Scottsdale.)

2011 wasn’t exactly a watershed season for Wilson, who had Tommy John surgery on his elbow in 2003 while at LSU.

He started off roughly, posting a 6.97 ERA in 11 April games. He was his bad-ass self in May (0.66 ERA) and June (1.29 ERA), before he started getting lit up again in July (3.75 ERA) and August (7.36 ERA).

Overall, Wilson went 6-4 with a 3.11 ERA, 1.473 WHIP, 36 saves, 54 strikeouts and 31 walks (none intentional) in 55 innings last year.

While the ERA was very good, the innings total was his lowest since 2007.  Despite 36 saves (which was good enough for 8th place in the NL and 11th-best in all of baseball), he also blew five saves and allowed opposing hitters to bat .400 against him when he was pitching with the bases loaded.

His 5.1 BB/9 rate was his highest since his rookie year of 2006 (6.3), and his SO/9 rate of 8.8 was his lowest since he posted a 6.8 SO/9 rate in 2007.

All of these figures point to a massive red flag to me.

While it’s very uncommon for a pitcher to have ulnar collateral ligament damage in the same spot after having Tommy John surgery once before, it’s not impossible.

Doug Brocail, Al Reyes, Matt Riley, and Darren Dreifort are all major league pitchers who have had the procedure performed twice. Former Cincinnati Reds flamethrower Jose Rijo had five Tommy John surgeries!

Wilson, who turns 30 on March 16, had his elbow MRI’d back in August after it had become inflamed and he was ordered to shut it down for a few days.

Fortunately, the exam did not reveal any structural damage to his UCL.

But as someone who’s followed the game for over 40 years, I’ve seen this scene played out before, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t worried about 2012.

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