Monday, April 02, 2018

Your 2018 Giants: Giants Bullpen is In Good Shape

I see people worried about our bullpen, so I thought I would tackle that concern.

ogc thoughts

I'm not too worried. Which means I think that we are in good shape, with some worries here and there. Sure, there was some stuff in spring that wasn't great, but there's always going to be things of concern.  I think that they will do okay. And there are other problems too, like with Melancon, but I think we have enough bodies that we are okay.

Bullpen Assessment

Here is what I'm seeing:

I see a 6 man bullpen through most of the season, with one long reliever for 7 total.  I'm going to focus more on the 6-man, with some thoughts on long relief afterward.

The six guys should be filled by Strickland, Dyson, Watson, Gearrin, Osich, Smith eventually, and hopefully Melancon will be in the mix, but only if he is healthy and performing.  If they do a redux of his 2017 usage when he wasn't ready or performing, then I have a problem with the bullpen too.  Seems like he's battling pain, so they should just sit him out as long as he has pain, even if he can throw with the pain, and try to get it all calmed down for a while, before he returns.  And maybe pitch for Sacramento or San Jose during one of their homestands to test out his arm before being placed back in the majors, so that there are no yo-yo-ing.

Here is the context with which I'm looking at the relievers:
  • Average NL relief in 2017:  4.18 ERA/4.17 FIP
  • Median NL team in 2017 (just happened to be the Giants):  4.34 ERA
  • Top team in relief in 2017 (LA):  3.38 ERA, they were just heads and shoulders above next tier, but 3.53 FIP, still great, but not as great
  • Top teams in relief in 2017 after LA:  3.81 ERA, five teams ranging from 3.78 to 3.84
Giants Relievers:

Strickland: Career 2.63 ERA, and now he added a shutdown slider, from all indications. Closer, not too worried, even if he didn't add the slider, his ERA was 2.63, maybe he'll have some Brian Wilson moments, I think it would have been all good.   Baggarly is calling for him to be the closer even when Melancon comes back, and I would have to agree, we don't need a closer who is in and out, and with this latest health setback for Melancon, I agree that the Giants need to make Melancon a set-up guy this season, mix him in with Watson and Dyson, and leave Strickland in this role and see how he does.  Or like how they needed a closer when Strickland did two days in a row, Melancon could be the 3rd day closer in these situations.

Dyson:  While his ERA for the Giants was not great last season, if he didn't have those last two blowups, we'll be having a different conversation. The difference for his ERA two games before the end of the season was 2.95 and after the two blowouts, 4.03, so I think his ERA is somewhere inbetween, in the middle, roughly 3.50, which is not bad. The vast majority of his appearances were good, he just had bad ones here and there.  Even if you want to focus on his 4.03 ERA, it is not that far behind the best teams in the NL last season (roughly 3.81 ERA).

Watson: Last two seasons, which were down seasons for him, 3.22 ERA. I wish all our relievers have down seasons like that. I was only down on him as closer because of his spring (how does one go through spring with zero strikeouts and then goes and strikes out the side in his first game?!?), but I think he's a great addition because we haven't had a effective lefty in years, then we got Smith and he went down.

Gearrin: 3.45 ERA for his career, I would take that, I think that's good and it was almost as good as the best team's ERA for relievers.

Osich: I don't expect him to duplicate his 2015 season (and after that last game in LA, certainly now), but he has gone back to his 2015 form and repertoire, and had success this spring that reflects that goodness, not the bad that was 2017. He had an ERA of 3.60 over his first two seasons, I would take that from him, especially against LHH, against whom I assume he would do better.  At worse, he should be an okay Loogy, until Smith is back.

Smith: 3.24 ERA career as a reliever. Yes, he had TJS, but most come back from it able to do what they did before. It's like hip surgery: sure, some die, but most come out healthy again (else why would anyone agree to go through the surgery?), so the expectation is health, even if sometimes bad things happen. Else, why do it?

Even if Osich or Smith should falter, I think that DJ Snelten will be performing well in AAA (had great spring and 2017) and making the Giants want to bring him up, so I think we are covered either way in another lefty, and perhaps might have two among the three, and that's great to have in addition to Watson.  I was also encouraged by Okert doing better in spring as well, he could be another lefty.

And while Law did not do well in spring, he has shown the ability to do well in the majors, on and off, and while that would not be great if he was a setup guy, I think that's fine in the back end of the bullpen, which is what we're talking about at this point.

Good 6-man Bullpen in 2018

I think this is the closest we have been to the prime Core Four years than we have been for years now.  Of course, these players will have to prove it, but I'm very encouraged by their career performances, accentuated by their spring performances and early season.

We got Strickland as closer.  Watson appears to be the setup guy, as he was for many years for the Pirates, plus is a great reliever against RHH (.660 career OPS, though not as great last season; could just be SSS that hurts relievers, as his BABIP spiked to a high point for career, so we'll see), as well as LHH.  We should be set pretty well for the top two key roles in the bullpen.

Dyson should be another setup guy, probably coming in the 7th, along with Gearrin, who has earned that right with his great pitching for the Giants.  Dyson did not have a great season for the Giants by ERA, but his season was pretty much Jeckyll and Hyde:  38 appearances, with 33 of them either 0 or 1 run given up, which is pretty good to me, it was just that in the other 5, he gave up crooked numbers, which heated up his ERA.

Take out some bad appearances and his ERA is very good.  For some reason Bochy left him in a game at the start of September, where he went 0.1 IP and gave up 5 runs; if you take that out of his games, his ERA drops from 4.03 to 2.87.  That is not far from his 2.53 ERA he had in 2015-2016.  And, if you take out his first appearance for us, right after we got him, and when he was still lost, he had a 3.55 ERA for the rest of the season, he righted himself for the most part in his next appearance two days later!

I get that you can't pick and chose games to be removed, they do represent what the player is capable of.  However, for relievers, there are a lot of noise because of the small sample issues involved with baseball for starters, let along relievers, who get around an inning to show what they can do.  Taking out a game or two, allows one to see how well Dyson actually pitched in 2017, when not getting blown up randomly.  Maybe after the final two blowups, he would have had another good 30 games.  And we have a great set of relievers in 2018, so that Bochy can give him the quick yank if necessary, whereas as closer in 2017, nobody that Bochy could really go to to save him.

So that's three of six, and I think Gearrin has earned that fourth spot, with his good pitching for the Giants, for while he has a career 3.45 ERA, he has had a 2.98 ERA for the Giants.   That's a strong top four relievers that we have in Strickland, Watson, Dyson, Gearrin.

Now for the final two.  I believe between Osich, Smith, Okert, and Snelten, we will have at least one if not two good lefty relievers.  That should cover at least one of the open spots, leaving one last spot.

Hopefully Melancon can be productive and be another option for setup, which would really strengthen our bullpen, as he's good when productive.  Law has been productive before, and was again at the end of 2017, so he's another option, though he had a bad spring.  Moronta has been interesting as a MLB reliever so far, with upper 90's ability and huge K/9 in the minors.  He has had erratic, fringy control, but BA noted that was related more to nibbling rather than ability to throw strikes, so if Bochy tells him to focus on throwing strikes, hopefully he's listening.  Pierce Johnson also has very interesting K/9 rates in the minors (to go with high BB/9 rates, but still), and I think he has mid to upper 90's velocity as well, from what I recall.  And Roberto Gomez got the call now as well, but as I noted before, based on his MiLB performance before, I thought that he would be a possible DFA.  And of course, perhaps two of the lefties above could fill the last two spots.

Long Relief:  Seventh Reliever in Bullpen

Right now, the Giants appear to be going with Pierce Johnson and perhaps Roberto Gomez, as long men.  I think once Samardzija comes back, sometime mid to late April, it is one of them optioned to the minors, and right now it looks like Gomez.   Then when Smith returns, sometime in May, early is the call right now, but since it got pushed back before, we'll see, then probably the poorest performer between Moronta and Osich would get sent down.  If Melancon is able to come back in April/May, these two are probably the choices for being sent down.

When Bumgarner is ready to return, early June is the target right now, that would probably be Pierce Johnson, though it he's doing really well, and one of Blach or Stratton are not doing well, it is possible one of those two will go down, and not Johnson, but more likely the guy pushed out of the rotation will become the long reliever. 

Also, if Holland isn't doing well enough, he could be pushed to long relief as well, when Bumgarner is ready to return.  He hasn't really pitched a full season in a long while, and way, so it is probably best that he moves back to relief at some point in mid-season, and have his arm hit the wall, as it appears to have done in the past 3 seasons, and maybe he could do a spot start (like I've been suggesting forever, insert a 6th starter as necessary in August and September, to give the rotation an extra day of rest before starts).  So if he's already struggling, may as well give his arm extended rest, which seems to recharge his arm (in prior seasons, when he returned from DL or started the season, he did well). 

Plus, Beede or Suarez could be tapped for long relief duty at some point, depending on how well they are doing, and perhaps the rotation, should Blach or Stratton struggles too much.

Overall:  Giants Have a Good Bullpen

Some have described the bullpen as dumpster fire, but I wouldn't. It may not be the best bullpen around, but I like the abilities to perform as I outlined above, that seems good to me, plus compares well with the average and top team stats above, and thus I'm not too worried.   Most project to be better than average (4.18 ERA average for relievers in NL in 2017), and should anyone falter in the back part of the rotation, we have a lot of options who could be good.

Mostly, we have a good set of top relievers:  Strickland, Watson, Dyson, Gearrin.   I think Smith should be a 5th, out of 6.  And we have a number of options for the 6th reliever in the bullpen.  Long relief, I think we are okay, as we have a number of options, Johnson, Blach, Stratton, Beede, Suarez (though he would need a 40-man spot; if Gomez falters much more, he could be DFAed to bring up Suarez at some point).

Sure, more injuries and poor performances could worry me more, but I think the Giants are far from a "dumpster fire", which to me was like the bullpens we had after Nen went down for good, and they had to cobble together bullpens with Herges as the closer or Hermanson, now THOSE were dumpster fires, as far as I'm concerned, not our current bullpen.  We have a good set of key performers who have a history of good performance, as well as recent health, and a nice selection of other potential contributors.


  1. This factoid was tweeted:

    Trevor Hildenberger joins Jesse Crain and Pat Neshek as the only right-handed relievers in Twins history with 30+ scoreless appearances in their first 40 career outings.

    That means that 75% or greater is pretty good for a reliever.

    Since the Giants acquired him in trade, Dyson has had 40 appearances for the Giants, and he had 32 scoreless appearances, for 80% scoreless outings for him.

    As I've been saying here, Dyson is a very good reliever. He just appears to give up runs in bunches, and that can be fixed by having him be a set-up guy in the 7th inning, and if he runs into trouble, instead of letting him give up multiple runs, you bring in Watson early, maybe for a 1+ inning appearance, or bring in Strickland once Watson reaches 1 IP, over two innings.

    1. Thinking more about it, I thought I would compare Dyson's 2017 performance with Melancon's. I looked into Melancon's 2015-16, when he was league leading, and also 2014, when he was good and not great. He also had a much lower ERA, as well.

      However, Dyson compared well. I also included inherited runners scored into the mix, so that I covered every game the reliever gave up a run, whether his own or inherited runners.

      Melancon had 79% scoreless appearances in 2014, then 81% in 2015 and 80% in 2016.

      Dyson had 79% scoreless appearances in 2017 (he did not allow one inherited runner to score; as impressive as that sounds, he was only allowed inherited runners in only two appearances out of those 38 with the Giants in 2017).

      So Dyson was a good back-end reliever for the Giants in 2017, and likely to continue that in 2018, even if he reverts back to his 2017 form, maybe better if he is able to rebuild his mechanics to be more like his prior, great ERA self.

      Our bullpen looks good to great with Strickland as closer (BWeez role), Watson as 8th inning guy (Affeldt role), Dyson as 7th inning guy (Casilla).

      And it could be even better if Smith can return as an effective loogy (Lopez), and more so if he can revert back to his prior goodness, when he was pitching like an Affeldt, that would be powerful for Bochy to have that, as he could go with Dyson, and if he struggles, quickly switch to Smith, and vice versa.

      And if Melancon can return to good pitching (with the possibility of regression), the bullpen would be much better as well.

      And, of course, Gearrin has been great for us as well, and could step in the 6th or 7th, and bridge us to the back end.



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