Giants Bullpen: This Looks Familiar

This post continues our Depth Chart Discussions. In an effort to suss out every team, we’ve divided them into four parts (infield, outfield, rotation, and bullpen) and will continue to break them down for you over the next few weeks. You can find the Depth Chart Discussion posts gathered here.

Despite lacking most of the elements classically associated with a sports dynasty, the Giants have been the most successful franchise in the last five years. Their specialized bullpen has played a big role in taking down powerhouses like the Phillies, Cardinals, Tigers, and Nationals. Surprisingly, there has been very little turnover in the unit.

Who Closes?

Santiago Casilla
Sergio Romo

Since Brian Wilson surrendered the job, the closer’s role has bounced between Casilla and Romo. Neither are typical ninth inning men, although they’re perfectly adequate for the job. Casilla is entering his sixth season with San Francisco while Romo is on his eighth.

Casilla should begin as the team’s closer by virtue of finishing last year with the role. He’s a tough ground ball artist. He doesn’t have the same elite ground ball rates as Zach Britton nor does he do much with strikeouts. Most teams would look at Casilla’s stuff and call him a middle reliever. His peripherals usually point to something between a 3.00 and 4.00 ERA. Over the last four seasons, his actual worst year came with a 2.16 ERA. He’s consistently posted a low BABIP and high strand rate in those four seasons.

Romo is a slider specialist. He usually throws the pitch at least 50 percent of the time. In that way, he’s a more typical closer – kind of like one-half of Brad Lidge. Romo disdains the fastball because there’s not much to it. It’s only 88 mph, so it’s best used as a sort of reverse off-speed pitch. Romo is currently battling shoulder stiffness. It sounds like this is a common spring ailment that he is used to working through. Still, I don’t expect to see him battle for ninth inning duties.

Blue Collar Men

Hunter Strickland
Jean Machi
Jeremy Affeldt
Javier Lopez

After allowing a thousand home runs in the playoffs, Strickland had a long offseason to regain his composure. The raw components of a relief ace are present – big 98 mph heater, good slider, and a strikeout rate to match. His home is AT&T Park, so I wouldn’t worry too much about home runs. A strong start to the season could put him in the closer discussion if Casilla struggles.

Machi has emerged in recent seasons as a reliable middle innings arm. Those in holds leagues could give Machi some consideration. He’s good at rolling ground balls. Like some double play specialists, Machi has a high swinging strike rate and mediocre strikeout rate. The roto-stats aren’t quite big enough to make him a valuable non-closer.

Affeldt is another long term resident of the Bay area. Since joining the Giants in 2009, he’s mostly been used as a full inning lefty. Whenever there is closer turnover, Affeldt’s name is among the candidates to fill in. It never quite works out for him. Like Machi, he’s a ground ball specialist with a mediocre strikeout rate.

Lopez arrived during the 2010 season. He’s a pure LOOGY in every sense of the role. He’s appeared in 301 regular season games for the Giants and pitched just 185 innings. Yet another pitcher who lives and dies by the ground ball, Lopez lacks much fantasy utility.

Other Considerations

Tim Lincecum
Yusmeiro Petit
George Kontos
Erik Cordier

The final spot most likely belongs to Lincecum or Petit. In fact, it’s hard to imagine the club won’t find a way to roster both players. If everyone stays healthy, that could mean Strickland is ticketed back to the minors. He’s the only pitcher in this bullpen with options (I think). Injuries will eventually open a job in the bullpen or rotation.

Petit proved his value last season as a swingman/front line reliever. In 49 relief innings, he held hitters to a .177/.226/.246 line. He’s also particularly tough on right-handed hitters – they hit .191/.214/.296 last season. He could be used as a late inning guy. Check out his invisiball.

Lincecum has fallen on hard times and could soon be done with the guaranteed contract portion of his career. His fastball has dipped below 90 mph, and a short stint in the bullpen revealed no redeeming features last season. He remains an intimidating presence on the mound, but he can no longer get away with iffy command and control. It’s weird to see him as the worst pitcher on the staff.

Kontos could figure into the bullpen at some point, but he’s an ordinary middle reliever (at best). Cordier is the name to watch. With a 99 mph fastball that can run into triple digits, he has elite reliever upside. His fastball and slider both feature excellent whiff rates. Command and control have been issues for him during his minor league career. He’ll turn 29 in a couple days, so he’s no spring chicken. I don’t expect him to break camp with the club, barring any sort of injury apocalypse.

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