San Francisco Giants: Shaun Anderson thriving in bullpen role

The San Francisco Giants bullpen looks much different now than it did just a couple of months ago. Clarity is emerging for one key role in the 2020 pen.

Rookie right-hander Shaun Anderson has had an up-and-down season in his inaugural campaign with the San Francisco Giants.

He made his MLB debut on May 15 as a starter, but he struggled to pitch deep into games, and he was relegated to the bullpen as a result. In the long run, this might be the best thing for him and the team.

Prior to the trade deadline, the San Francisco Giants traded away several bullpen arms including Sam Dyson, Mark Melancon, and Drew Pomeranz. In addition to this, Reyes Moronta, Tony Watson, and Trevor Gott have sustained season-ending injuries, with Moronta expected to miss most of 2020. Lastly, Will Smith is set to become a free agent at the end of this season.

In short, the Giants bullpen depth, which was a strength earlier this season, has now become a question mark. There are few absolutes for the 2020 bullpen, and plenty of relievers are auditioning for future roles with the club.

When Anderson was first relegated to a relief role, his appearances seemed few and far between.

However, with all of the bullpen departures, an opportunity arose for the 24-year-old pitcher. With Smith battling back problems, manager Bruce Bochy called on the University of Florida product to audition as the closer.

He has risen up to the challenge and answered the call in a small but impressive sample size. Since moving to the bullpen, Anderson has only made eight appearances, but a trend is emerging from that sample.

As a starter, the right-hander struggled to get swinging strikes, fanning only 55 batters in 82.2 frames. Since moving to the bullpen, Anderson has had far less trouble generating strikeouts with 11 in 9.2 innings of work.

One reason for that could be a huge spike in his fastball velocity:

Since pitching as a reliever is more of a sprint than a marathon, Anderson does not have to pace himself. His fastball velocity hovered around 92.5 mph as a starter, but it has jumped to roughly 95.5 mph as a reliever. In his save opportunities, he has frequently touched 96 mph.

That uptick in velocity is an interesting development for Anderson, as his repertoire also includes a slider, curveball, and changeup.

Being able to pair his offspeed pitchers with a 95 mph fastball will keep hitters off-balance, and allow each of his pitches to play up in small doses.

In addition to generating more strikeouts, Anderson has also been a more effective pitcher as a reliever. As a starter, he posted a 5.33 ERA, whereas he has a 4.66 ERA as a reliever. That reliever ERA is still not great, but he’s been much better lately, allowing runs in just one of his last five appearances.

It’s also worth noting that this is not Anderson’s first rodeo as a closer.

He pitched out of the bullpen for much of his time at the University of Florida, serving as the team’s closer during his final year there in 2016 when he tallied 13 saves with a 0.97 ERA and 60 strikeouts in 46.1 innings.

Given that experience, he knows how to prepare for the role. His bulldog mentality and mound presence also fit the job well.

Whether Anderson’s long-term future is as a starter or a reliever remains to be seen. For now, he is quickly pitching his way into a significant bullpen role in 2020.

Either way, the San Francisco Giants will have bullpen vacancies to address this offseason. If his ninth-inning audition continues to go well, finding a new closer could be one less item on the offseason to-do list.