Following a devastating end to the 2016 season, the San Francisco Giants bullpen looks poised for success this upcoming season, featuring a relatively similar cast.
After blowing 32 saves during 2016, including two in the postseason, the San Francisco Giants knew they had one glaring need to address over the offseason; the closer role. The Giants have not had a true closer since Brian Wilson left following an injury ridded 2012 season. Since then they have rolled out the likes of Sergio Romo, and Santiago Casilla, before Bruce Bochy opted to close games by committee towards the end of the 2016 season.
The Giants addressed this major issue over the offseason by signing one of the premier closers in the MLB in Mark Melancon to a 4 year $62M contract. While this may be the obvious reason why the bullpen will be much improved this upcoming season, the young staff will compliment Melancon quite well. Melancon has converted 147 saves over the last four seasons, including 47 in 2016.
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Aside from the Melancon signing, the Giants have remained quiet on bringing in other outside arms, instead relying on younger arms within the organization to round out the ‘pen. However, the bullpen will look noticeably different this upcoming season, as it looks like the Giants will be moving on from Casilla, Romo, and Javier Lopez.
Although these players have accomplished a lot in a Giants uniform, and I thank them for all they have done for this organization, it just does not make sense to bring them back. Casilla and the Giants will both be looking for a fresh start after a rough 2016 season, Romo, a fan favorite, is too one dimensional and the Giants have arms that are more versatile to fill his role, and Javier Lopez is getting old and also falls victim to depth within the bullpen.
While these notable arms will be missing, the bullpen will arguably be better off this upcoming season without them. The departure of Casilla, Lopez, and Romo will allow for the younger arms to pitch more innings, thus gaining more experience. The bullpen will feature many familiar faces from last year’s squad, such as George Kontos, Hunter Strickland, Derek Law, Will Smith, Josh Osich, and Cory Gearrin. Steven Okert will also compete with Osich for that second lefty spot behind Smith, and Albert Suarez, Matt Cain, and Ty Blach will all be in the mix for the long-reliever role, depending on whoever loses out on the fifth starter role.
Kontos, one of the more underrated relievers on the team in my opinion, has always put up solid numbers for the orange and black. In his five years as a Giant, he has amassed a 15-9 record with a 2.90 ERA, and draws a lot of weak contact. In a rough year for the bullpen as a whole, he managed to put up a 3-2 record and 2.53 ERA in 53.1 IP. Kontos will look to repeat his success as a middle innings reliever, with the ability to pitch multiple innings at a time. His only knock is he battled injuries last season.
Strickland posted a formidable 3.10 ERA in 61.0 IP, while only giving up four home runs in the process. This is significant because it shows the strides he has made into establishing himself as a dependable late-innings reliever.
Coming off of an impressive rookie season in which he went 4-2 with a 2.13 ERA in 55 innings while holding batters to a .215 BAA, Derek Law will get plenty of opportunities to pitch in the later innings. If he can build off his stellar 2016 season, look for Bochy to trot Law out to the mound as the 8th inning set-up man.
Many fans were not too excited about the trade for Will Smith at last year’s trade deadline, however, it was a necessary move. Smith is a reliable left-handed reliever, and ended the year on a high note for the Giants.
He had a 3.68 ERA with the Brewers before posting a 2.95 ERA in a Giants uniform, ending the year with a 3.35 ERA overall. He really found his groove over the last month of the season, posting 0.00 ERA while holding batters to an impressive .074 BAA in 8.2 IP. Look for Smith to be the go to lefty out of the ‘pen in 2017.
The second left-handed spot will be an interesting competition to watch during spring training. After a solid rookie season going 2-0 with a 2.20ERA, striking out 27 batters in 28.2 IP, Josh Osich struggled mightily in 2016. He was never a dependable option out of the bullpen, going 1-3 with a 4.71 ERA in 36.1 IP, while battling injuries throughout the year. A bright spot, however, is he is still only 27 and has all offseason to get back to 100 percent in time for spring training. He will be battling with Steven Okert, who struck out 14 batters in 14 IP, while amassing a 3.21 ERA. It is also possible that both can make the roster depending on how they perform in spring training/how many relievers Bochy decides to carry.
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Cory Gearrin is another likely candidate for an early inning relief role. Although he finished the year with a 4.28 ERA in 48.1IP, he was solid except July and August, in which he posted a 16.87 and 11.57 ERA respectively. He battled arm injuries and went on the DL for awhile, before posting a 1.35 ERA in September. If he can remain healthy and pitch as he did the majority of the season, Gearrin will be a lock to make the roster.
One of the more intriguing battles to watch is the battle for the long-relief role. The likely candidate will be whoever loses out on the fifth starter role, yet still pitches well enough to earn a roster spot.
This will likely be between Matt Cain, Albert Suarez, and Ty Blach. Knowing Bochy’s tendencies, he is going to give Cain every chance he can to start the season as the fifth starter despite posting a 4-8 record and 5.64 ERA. That leaves the long reliever role to either Blach or Suarez. In this case I give the edge to Blach after an electric rookie season, where he went 1-0 with a 1.06 ERA, including an 8 inning shut out victory in only his second career start, against none other than Clayton Kershaw, to help send the Giants to the playoffs.
Suarez will likely be on the roster at some point during the season if he does not make the roster out of spring training. The 2016 season was a tale of two halves for the rookie hurler, accumulating a 3-1 record to go along with a 3.67 ERA in 13 games (6 starts), while holding batters to a .229 BAA, prior to the all-star break, before going 0-4 with a 5.28 ERA, while opponents hit .309 off of him in 9 games (6 starts) after the all-star break. Suarez showed promise in both the starter and long reliever role in 2016, and will potentially find himself in those roles again in 2017.
Overall, the bullpen will be intriguing to watch this upcoming season, and has the potential to be special in the coming years. While it remains to be seen how the young arms will overcome the tumultuous 2016 season, the front office did their job, and got a premier closer, which will put the rest of the bullpen in more distinguished, and successful roles all around.
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