The San Francisco Giants have had some dynamite relief pitchers in recent years, including the “Core Four” during the team’s successful run earlier this decade.
San Francisco Giants closer Will Smith is off to a great start to the 2019 season.
The 29-year-old has converted all seven of his save chances with a 3.09 ERA and 1.11 WHIP in 12 appearances. He picked up a save and a win in the team’s most recent series against the rival Los Angeles Dodgers.
So where does Smith rank among the best relievers in recent years?
There have been some really good ones in the past 25 years, and the team has consistently relied on a solid bullpen as a catalyst for success. Let’s compare them all to see where Smith lands.
We’ll start with Robb Nen.
“Heart Attack” as he was often referred racked up 206 saves in his five seasons with the Giants, recording at least 37 saves each year. He was an All-Star three times and posted a 2.43 ERA, 1.08 WHIP and 10.8 K/9.
However, he also had 34 blown saves and 25 losses during his time with the team, as the ninth inning was often an adventure.
While his final moment in a Giants uniform was a bad one, it was still admirable that he pitched through pain and basically ended his career trying to bring the Giants a title during the 2002 World Series.
Another name that comes to mind when thinking of great Giant closers is Brian Wilson.
His arc from beloved to hated to reluctantly loved by some fans again made for an interesting journey.
Wilson was my favorite player for a while, due to his eccentric personality and ability to close out big games. He had four years of excellence from 2008 to 2011, saving 163 games and blowing just 23 while posting a 3.00 ERA and 10.1 K/9. And, of course, he delivered one of the most iconic moments in franchise history when he struck out Texas Rangers slugger Nelson Cruz to end the 2010 World Series.
I was fortunate enough to see him with my own eyes at the 2011 All-Star Game with great seats right behind the National League bullpen.
Sadly, just like Nen, Wilson’s career was cut short due to injury. Making matters worse, he joined the Dodgers and enjoyed some success there before calling it quits.
It’s not just about closers, though. Any discussion about great Giants relievers is incomplete without mention of the storied “Core Four,” which, of course, refers to the four relievers in the bullpen for all three of the Giants championships—Sergio Romo, Jeremy Affeldt, Santiago Casilla and Javier Lopez.
Of those four, Romo certainly had the most iconic moment with his strikeout of Miguel Cabrera to end the 2012 World Series. But all of them had their moments.
Affeldt’s solid inning in Game 7 of the 2014 Series will forever be overshadowed by Madison Bumgarner’s excellence to follow. Lopez came in to face a lefty and did the job perfectly countless times. Casilla was the winning pitcher in the deciding game in 2012 after pitching brilliantly in the ninth.
So where does Smith rank among these bullpen titans?
Unfortunately, he has yet to prove himself in the playoffs like those who came before him, but talent wise he’s on par with Affeldt and Casilla. Given the team’s struggles this season and his standing as an upcoming free agent and prime trade candidate, chances are he’ll never have the chance.
So all things considered, including regular season stats and clutch playoff performance, here’s how I would rank the seven relievers mentioned above:
- Jeremy Affeldt
- Sergio Romo
- Brian Wilson
- Robb Nen
- Santiago Casilla
- Javier Lopez
- Will Smith
Why Affeldt at No. 1?
Aside from his strong regular season numbers, he had a 0.69 ERA in 26 postseason innings during his time with the Giants, recording two wins and four holds while serving in a crucial setup role.
That consistent performance when the lights shined brightest in October earned him the nod.
While you may not agree with those rankings, one thing is certain. The Giants have had some truly excellent relief pitching in recent years, and 2019 is no different with Smith anchoring the relief corps.