Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Your 2012 Giants: Closer by Committee (or Moving Back One Inning?)

Wow, changes were even more drastic than I originally thought.  As reported by all the usual suspects in the SF Bay Area media (here's Schulman's since he originally broke the implications of Affeldt closing first), Santiago Casilla is out as part of the closer by committee scheme that was the apparently impetus for Schulman's spot-on speculation that the Mijares move was tied to having Affeldt being put in closing situations.

The reasoning is still the same, that blister issues is affecting Casilla's effectiveness, but his issues apparently are worse than initially mentioned because he warmed up early in yesterday's game (7th) and was almost immediately shut down due to the blister issue.  I would guess that maybe once he gets healthy, he'll be moved into a more prominent role, but for now, they are resting him as much as possible without DLing him so that he can get healthy while still being available occasionally for bullpen duties.

Instead, for the closer-by-committee scheme, Bochy will now mix and match Jeremy Affeldt, Sergio Romo, and Javier Lopez in the 8th and 9th, with Casilla, Hensley, Kontos, Penny, Mijares handling 6th and 7th, mostly (though clearly getting some late game work, for Penny was seen warming up in last night's game in the 9th).  They say (that is, Affeldt spoke for everyone) that once Bochy explained things, they understood their roles and is behind this closer by committee situation (even though Affeldt had said at the start of this season that he wasn't sure how it works).

The way it works is by matchups, so depending on who is coming up, Bochy might use Romo first one night, Affeldt first another night, Lopez first on some nights, and the mix and matching begins.

ogc Thoughts

Nobody I've seen mentioned this, and this might be why they are so comfortable with it now, but basically what Bochy is doing is moving his 7th/8th inning rotation of Affeldt, Romo, Lopez back one inning to the 8th/9th.  At least, that is what it seems to me as pretty obvious, maybe somebody can correct me if I'm wrong.

That's a pretty creative way of handling the situation.  All three already know when to be expected to be used in the 7th/8th.  Only now, the expectation is that we should look for them in the 8th/9th instead.

And while people don't acknowledge or realize it, set-up men are doing essentially closer-type duties, only 1-2 innings earlier and without the glory of the save (yea Hold?).  Romo mentioned this once in an interview, when asked if he would like to be a closer someday (he wouldn't mind, but happy where he is).  And per saber's complaints about modern day closers, often, that's when the critical, leveraged situations occur where a team would want their best pitchers pitching, not this 1-2-3, start with a clean 9th easy-save situation that LaRussa wrought with creating the Eck-save.

Given that the Giants don't have a single pitcher they feel comfortable going to solely for the save (i.e. Casilla is out), shifting the set-up men into a closer-by-committee situation makes a lot of sense, both in terms of usage and comfort.  Especially in keeping the bullpen dynamic for the three (Affeldt, Romo, Lopez) continuing unchanged for the most part.

Instead of promoting one or the other into the closing role, and changing their dynamics, they keep the same dynamics, only an inning later than before.  That's particularly important (perhaps vitally so) should the Giants find a closer for next season and the three are around to continue their intricate dance of setting up saves.  Egos and expectations stay checked, at least until next season, when things couldchange since Wilson probably won't be ready at the start of the season.

Other Bullpen Possibilities

Meanwhile, Casilla gets to heal up with more rest while still being available to help in leveraged situations in the 6th/7th.  And I would hope that George Kontos, given his good performances this season, will get opportunities to show his stuff in the later innings as well.  That is, I hope that Penny isn't the only one who gets warmed up as necessary late in the game, I think Kontos great seasonal stats deserves a look at late in the game (great K/BB ratio!).

Plus, now that Heath Hembree is back from his DL stint and pitching again in the minors, he probably will get a call-up in September if he can stay healthy.  He's now pitching in San Jose, but should be promoted soon enough to AAA Fresno once he is ready.  He hasn't been that great this season, so I don't expect him to be called up earlier, though.  I would expect most of the pitchers on the 40 man roster to be called up in September as well:  Steve Edlefsen, Eric Hacker, Shane Loux (once he gets off the DL, he was put on DL to bring in Mijares), Dan Otero, Dan Runzler.   Only Hector Correa probably is not going to get called up, not sure what will happen with Guillermo Mota though.

And given that the Giants might have space on the 40 man at some point, I wonder if the Giants might make the bold move to add Brett Bochy to the 40 man and call him up in September, so that he can be with his Dad.  Though, I would think that Yusmeiro Petit might get the call first should there be 40 man space, he has had a great season in AAA Fresno, with a 3.25 ERA and 8.2 K/9 with excellent 4.1 K/BB ratio.

40 Man Roster Thoughts

Mijares just grabbed the last spot on the 40 man.  And the restricted players (Mota and Villalona) appear to not be counted, nor the two 60-day players (Wilson and Surkamp).  Franchez has not been moved to the 60-day DL yet, and if he were, that would open up a spot on the 40 man roster.

Though that could be for a utility bench player, as it has been reported that the Giants were interested enough in Lyle Overbay to invite him to get his bat ready by playing some in AAA (He didn't want to go back to AAA, so he's currently waiting for an offer to play in the majors) before a call-up to take the role they were envisioning for Huff, who while still on the DL, apparently is travelling with the team (and playing Buster Posey's Apple platform game, Buster Bash, the first game put out by an MLB player, apparently).  So another waiver wire deal, but for a bench player, would not be surprising.

I also wonder if the Giants might still be looking for a LH reliever to provide coverage in the 6th/7th situations.  Given that Lopez and Affeldt are slotted now for 8th/9th, that leaves just one lefty, Mijares, to cover the 6th/7th.  And Bochy does love playing the left-right advantage as manager.  But they most probably will wait for September to do that, by calling up Runzler, because otherwise they would have to DFA one of the current bullpen arms to do that, with Penny the most obvious choice at the moment, though Hensley's walk rate probably puts his spot in a precarious state as well (and Penny is a Bochy buddy).  I wonder if they regret letting go of Blackley so easily, he would have been good for the current situation, perhaps they might not even have considered Mijares had they still had Travis, though I think I would rather have Mijares over Blackley, for both now and long-term, as LOOGY.

12 comments:

  1. I'm sure the blister is a big issue. The other issue is in Casilla's head. He can be lights out as long as things are going his way, but put a runner on base, he becomes a different pitcher. He was going strong for a while, and then hit a wall. It cost us fairly dearly in the standings.

    I like the move. This is Bochy's strength, mixing and matching arms. He is such a better pen manager than Baker or Alou. I didn't comment on the KC LOOGY pickup post, but I like that move. Looks like a combo of $ owed and attitude issues. Pretty nice bet for 300K, if it doesn't work out, you cut him. Again, this is a strength of the pitching staff, getting the most out of the arms. I love having 3 lefties. I'm a bit irrational that way.

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    1. I like having three lefties too. Many teams have big left-handed hitters who need to be neutralized 1-2 times in a game, and multiple ones. With three lefties, that should cover most times.

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  2. I'm just wondering why the Snakes cut Overbay? He's clearly got something left (112 OPS+, career average 109) so it's a head scratcher just like the Royals cutting Mijares. Weird things happen in baseball in August. I wouldn't be shocked to see Overbay picked up for someone's 25 man, but I'd be delighted if he ended up in Fresno. As a LH PH, he has value.

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    1. Good point, didn't know he was doing so well overall, just saw a comment somewhere that he's in a deep slump right now. I can see why he don't want to go to AAA given his good overall line. Looking at their transaction lines, it appears they dropped him in order to pick up Will Nieves, former Rockies catcher, who was hitting pretty well this season.

      But with Goldschmidt's surge to hold 1B and four outfielders who they need to play regularly, that don't leave much space for Overbay other than bench player.

      Looking at his splits, he's great against RHP, but horrible against LHP this season, meaning other teams can throw their LOOGY at him and we would burn an AB or hitter. But if he were to start at 1B for us, he would not hurt the lineup much at 7th, and provide good boost vs. RHP, who we have trouble with overall. Could mean pushing Belt to AAA though, so perhaps that is why the Giants want to place him in AAA first, to store him there until call-ups?

      But wow, since June 19th, .080/.115/.080/.195, he has been totally cold, got only 4 starts, 14 appearances in the team's last 42 games. That pretty much shows why they dropped him, they have rarely used him in the past two months, and even when they did, he was horrible, worse than a pitcher. Two months of nothing on the bench, I would have dropped him too. No wonder the Giants insist on him getting his bat into shape in AAA first, he's doing even worse than Belt.

      To grab him now for the majors would mean that the team really believes in him, or really, the GM and/or manager, plus the team would have to be in contention. Not going to be many teams fitting that description, I don't think.

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    2. And while Mijares seems like a head scratcher, read my post on it, I think it makes sense when you take all those factors together.

      Particularly from the Royals side. The GM tried hard to get something of value for Mijares. Now one could argue that maybe he overpriced the reliever, and I can't argue either way on that because I was not privy to that. But at least he tried and got no offer worth taking.

      So now the scenario is that the Royals are going nowhere, so why not assess who to keep and who is not part of the future. Mijares they decided was too pricey, and thus a likely candidate to not tendering. Again, could argue on that, but there are many who feel that relievers are easily found (as many Giants fans seem to think this off-season when we signed Lopez and Affeldt), particularly Beane, so why not dump him now and save some money? Especially if the prospect talent being offered for him was not that interesting to their scouts? And you believe you can pick up a cheaper replacement over the off-season (and I would note here the term usually used is "cheaper" not "better").

      Another good reason to drop him is that when you are losing like this, you need to put the pedal to the metal and lose a lot, so that you get a good draft pick. Especially since other losers are dumping their good players too and putting in AAA prospect players to test out.

      Then it is win-win for the losing team: if the prospect is horrible, you lose more games and get a better draft pick, but if he does well, then you got another piece of the future puzzle. Hence the Sanchez deal with Rockies, each team gets to see if the other pitcher is worth keeping because they had already decided that their current guy is not worth keeping (and in Dirty's case, gone after the season because he's a free agent).

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    3. Great analysis re: Overbay. I didn't realize how bad he's been the last two months. The Giants aren't going to send Belt down, so there's really no room on the roster for Lyle until September, which is why they wanted to stuff him in Fresno. He could very well be done -- why else would a playoff contender just cut him loose?

      Re: Mijares -- good points, but it still doesn't quite add up. The Royals aren't saving much by cutting him now, and he's a solid bullpen arm. Maybe they need the roster spot, but rosters expand in three weeks. Ok, so they missed the mark on his trade value, but that wouldn't explain 14 AL teams and 10 or so NL teams not claiming him either. Nope, I think it was a clubhouse thing and Mijares wasn't a fit. I think I read somewhere that he wasn't "serious" enough for what the Royals are trying to create. I think they did a cost/benefit analysis and decided no Mijares possibly affecting the young players had more value than the good pitching he had given them. I don't think it had anything to do with trying to lose games -- teams can't think like that, especially since the MLB draft is such a crapshoot. Here, he joins countrymen Pagan, Pablo, Hector, and Scoots. It's just a better fit here for him. Add in that (as you point out) they weren't going to arb with him anyway and that makes a lot more sense.

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    4. Good points McBagger, particularly about it not making sense from the KC side. A KC fan noted on the Mijares post that there was some sort of internal clubhouse spat that forced the team to just dump him now (and fire some coaches).

      But that doesn't explain why so many teams avoided him, I still like my theory about why teams passed on him, they were expecting KC to want to trade him (forgot to add that some teams might have let him go for that reason) and didn't expect them to just dump him like that, plus might have been happy with what they already had. And he's OK, just not great, so there was no urgency to block him.

      And for LA and AZ, the Giants already had Affeldt and Lopez, plus Runzler in the minors, so they probably didn't expect the Giants to pick him up, our main issue, from their perspective, would be picking up a closer, not going back to the closer-by-committee situation which we actually had done at the start of the season, but then dropped once Casilla did well in the closer role, in other words, essentially it failed for us, so why would we go back to it now?

      I'll agree that not all teams think like that, about purposefully losing, I guess my point is that teams can act like that without thinking like that, for example, saying we are going young and trading away the vets to make space. Well, if the young players are not really that good, then your team is going to stink bad and lose a lot (kind of like what the Warriors did this season, and what the A's did under Mack and Finley, sell off everything and start anew).

      And my main point is that losing big like that is the best way to rebuild a team. The Braves under Cox is my best example of that strategy in action.

      What people don't realize is that Cox was the GM during all those years when they were the worse team in baseball, yet when they were ready to rock and roll, he named himself manager and then led the team to, what, 17 years of straight playoff appearances, or something like that. If losing bad was not his strategy, then he should have been fired by the Braves, not allowed to manage their newly rebuilt team.

      Of course, no team will out and out say that they want to lose more games to get better draft position. Bad for selling tickets. Thus you hide it with terms like "play the young guys", "rebuilding" and stuff like that.

      And while the draft is a crapshoot, there are levels of crappyness. For the first 5 picks, the odds are roughly 40-45% that you can find a good player. Not overwhelming odds, but it is great compared to picks 6-20, where the odds fall roughly to 20-25%, or roughly half the success rate. And greater still than the picks for the playoff contending teams, 21-30, where the odds are now in the 10-11% range, based on the rough data I had in my study from 10 years ago of the draft.

      So crapshoot, yes, but it pays big time if you are on the edge between 1-5 and 6-20, to try to lose more games in order to get a top 5 pick. You go from finding a good player every 4-5 drafts with your first round pick, to finding a good player every 1-2 drafts. Twice the speed and efficacy.

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  3. Bochy just announced yesterday that Mijares can expect to be used for whole innings, not just for LH hitters.

    I see Bochy doing that in order to save the arms in the bullpen, by not mixing and matching as much, RLR or LRL, he can save pitches on the arms of his relievers, so that they can stay effective longer in the season (i.e. into the playoffs). Not only by not having them pitch in games as often, but not making the guys get up in the bullpen and throw, which puts wear and tear on the arms and bodies also, but just is not recorded anywhere in baseball stats.

    He's already been doing something like that anyway, using Kontos, Penny, Affeldt for one inning plus on a number of occasions. Mijares is just being added to the group that he will do that with, that is all.

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  4. Agreed, and Mijares also gives him the option of making Affeldt the closer, or usual closer, and letting Mijares work his way into the 7-8th inning lefty setup guy. We have our LOOGY, so Mijares makes a lot of sense if Affledt is going to pitch at the end of games.

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  5. so many points in this column... thanks OGC.

    Assuming he does it right (which I do) the mixing of closers is the right thing to do anyway - the point (should be) like beating a dead horse by now.

    I don't know if teams purposely lose games (so to speak), but, if you're out of it, seems like it's only logical to bypass players that have a more well-defined ceiling for ones that don't. Bringing up someone from AAA often may decrease your chances of winning, but why stick with someone who clearly is very predictable. There's some logic in seeing if player x might be your shortstop of the future... and on a losing team, it's not a Belt situation where there's any real consequences. But, there are so many moving parts - I'm sure GMs are aware as well about draft picks. I think that's just a positive result, not a motivation.

    On the other hand (and this may apply to Mijares) it has to be a drag to be on an eternally losing team. I know, these are professionals blah blah blah, but I've given thought to Hanley Ramirez... all of us have had jobs where the powers that be don't seem to give a shit, and it does trickle down. I'd be pissed being stuck on the Marlins, there is some justification why he wouldn't be motivated to give 110%. Why bother? Of course that's very immature, but who says all ballplayers are mature?

    On still another hand, for the Giants' sake I hope that's not true. Don't want Ramirez to turn into "future HOF candidate" again, not at all. Interesting risk for the Dodgers.

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    1. Thanks for the comment.

      The good news is that neither Hanley nor The Flying Hawaiian are doing much for LA right now. Of course, neither has Pence so far, so it could be an adjustment period (thought as I noted, Pence got hot for the Phillies about 3-4 games after they got him).

      However, both have been making very good contact, suggesting that once the BABIP gods decide to regress to his career mean, they both could heat up big time.

      However, in Hanley's case, his numbers are right in line with what he did for the Marlins last year and this year. And, after a very hot start with them, he's been super cold, which exactly coincides with him starting a homestand in LA.

      Which makes sense and don't make sense. Makes sense because it's a pitcher's park, but it don't make sense because I've been saying for years that acquired hitters there will suffer and they end up hitting better there than on the road, so I gave up saying that, as logical as it may seem.

      Oddly enough, it also almost coincides with LA returning Hanley to SS, which I had thought was part of the reason for his funk in Miami, that he was upset over being moved to 3B like that. I was afraid that would ignite him, but so far it hasn't, but it could be the BABIP too, since he was hitting well initially.

      Of all the luck, Dee Gordon had to break his hand, freeing LA to use Hanley at SS. I think that Dee just got Wally Pipped off the team.

      And, small samples and it was COL, but Victorino had a nice 3 games against COL, he could be breaking out as well. Or it could just be 3 games and AA pitchers.

      I thought maybe Hunter was breaking out with his doubles, but he's gone cold again, of course, small samples, but it is what it is until he changes it.

      I wasn't too scared when I learned that LA got Hanley and that he was still playing 3B. But with him playing SS, I'm worried now if that might free his selfish mind to start hitting again. The only good note there is that he's doing exactly as well as he was doing last season, when he was struggling with his injury.

      I got more worried when they got Victorino, his recent history suggests that he was just having a poor season, not that it was a trend, because his hitting peripherals looked in line with his career. Plus he had great May and June, but very poor April and July brought him down. The good news is that his time with LA continues the decline that began in early July, plus there was a significant uptick in the number of strikeouts in that bad streak. However, as I noted, he just had a nice 3 games. We will see.

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    2. From my reading of interviews over the years, clearly ballplayers are human and it is human nature to let a losing situation drag you down, especially year after year, or if you are used to winning and suddenly is thrust into a losing situation.

      I also recall reading a Mijares interview where he intimated that this as well, but frankly my memory is crappy right now, been suffering vertigo for over a week now.

      And I think most observers would call Hanley immature. He's been a hothead since he was a top prospect in the minors and he continues because when you can perform like he did, people put up with that crap.

      And I think any poor performances coming out of that comes from his being shoved to 3B, not from Miami, after all, the Marlins just shelled out big money to pick up a bunch of players, plus pursued Pujols and Wilson, so they were gearing up to win and yet he could get his bat going.

      Though, he did have a great May, so the bat is still in there somewhere. Hopefully his poor June, July, August is more about his recovery from surgery last season. Unlike a Posey, who rigorously attacked his recovery process, I can see Hanley being lackadaisical about keeping his fitness up while recovering, maybe his stamina pooped out in May or June, and he'll be up and down the rest of the season. Heck, playing SS should tire him out even more than 3B. We'll see.

      About losing as motivation or positive result, I see your point, but I guess what I'm saying is that teams are pursuing losing in hopes of getting a positive result. Nobody is motivated to lose, per se, but they can and, I think, are motivated to get a better draft pick, or at least hold your position at the moment.

      It's a fine line, I'll admit, and perhaps it's my wording, but when a team trades off most of its best players, particularly faces of franchises (like Foxx, Blue or Haren) for prospects, they are clearly setting up their team to lose a lot more games. So whether they are motivated or not, that's the most likely result, unless the prospects you put in place somehow comes through for you. And most of the time, if they were ready to contribute, you would have brought them up earlier and not have to trade off someone to give him an opportunity.

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