Thankfully for their playoff hopes, none of their division rivals have fared much better as of late and the Giants are just 3.5 games out of first place. Hope is not lost for the Giants, but they can certainly use some help getting better. I’ve already taken a look at how the Giants fair on offense, as well as the starting rotation situation. Today we turn our attention to San Francisco’s relievers.
At first glance the Giants’ bullpen doesn’t look so bad. They currently rank 5th in the NL in both ERA and FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) with marks of 3.14 and 3.47, respectively. Even looking at an individual level the only member of the bullpen with an ERA above 4.00 is George Kontos.
On the surface everything looks good, but a deeper look shows that everything hasn’t been perfect this season.
When you take a look at the win expectancy stats, things look much grimmer. In WPA (Win Probability Added) the Giants drop from the 5th best bullpen staff in the NL to the 11th. The Giants’ pitchers have generally pitched well but haven’t performed nearly as well when the stakes have been higher. The “Clutch” statistic attempts to quantify exactly that and in this statistic again the Giants fall into the bottom half of the teams.
Perhaps even more illustrative of the Giants bullpen struggles are statistics called shutdowns and meltdowns. The quick explanation for this is that if a pitcher increases the team’s chance of winning by 6% or higher, he gets a shutdown. If he lowers the team’s chance of winning by more than 6%, he gets a meltdown. When looked at this way, the Giants’ bullpen becomes the second worst in the NL behind only the Dodgers. 41 times this season a Giants relief pitcher has melted down, with Jeremy Affeldt leading the way with eight and Jose Mijares with six (against zero shutdowns!).
All that doom and gloom aside, there is a silver lining; WPA and more generally the timing of hits allowed is not very predictive of future performance. Many of the Giants who’ve done poorly have a track record of being solid, dependable pitchers, and even this season — with the exception of Kontos — that has remained the case.
Right now the only relievers who inspire confidence are Sergio Romo and Javier Lopez against a left-handed hitter, but with a few solid outings the others could join that group.
On the plus side, the Giants do actually have some potential help coming from within the organization. In regards to Heath Hembree, the ERA is ugly in Fresno but he does have a plus fastball that just needs a consistent second pitch to go with it. At worst, Hembree should be a September callup to get through the last month of the season. The other reinforcement is Santiago Casilla, who is recovering from surgery to remove a cyst. The latest update is hopeful that he can go back to handling some of the setup duties before the All-Star break.
Looking at the trade possibilities, bullpen depth is always a plus and can usually be found at a reasonable price. Who would you like the Giants to target?