SF Giants Under-The-Radar Targets
#1 Anthony Bass
Plenty of focus has gone to big-time closers on the free-agent market, but Anthony Bass is quietly one of the strongest middle-relief/setup options available. Originally developed as a starter by the Padres, Bass bounced between starting and long-relief until 2018. Since, he’s been a solid reliever for the Cubs, Mariners, and Blue Jays. Given the SF Giants lack of right-handed bullpen arms, he’s an easy fit.
Over the past three seasons, Bass has made 86 appearances, finished 31 games, recorded 12 saves, and posted a solid 3.44 ERA (3.63 FIP). Working primarily off a mid-90s sinker, Bass does not rack up strikeouts at an elite rate. However, there’s a strong argument to be made he was one of the best relievers in baseball in 2020 and might have more room for improvement.
Per expected ERA, which estimates a pitcher’s ERA based on their strikeouts, walks, and the quality of contact they allow, Bass pitched in-line with a 2.24 ERA, better than 98% of qualified pitchers. In fact, Bass’ opponents had one of the lowest barrel-rates in baseball. Both marks rank above top free-agent relievers Liam Hendriks, Brad Hand, and Trevor May.
Relying too heavily on the small sample size of the 2020 season is a cause for concern. Bass was considered solidly average in 2018 and 2019, which would still make him a solid addition to any bullpen, but far from the elite pitcher, he looked like in 2020. Still, there’s reason to believe Bass’ repertoire made strides that he can build off of.
Bass’ slider jumped from being an above-average pitch in 2019 (37.3% whiff rate/.289 expected weighted on-base average against) to an absolutely dominating one in 2020 (52.2% whiff/.194 xwOBA). While the pitch lost 1.5 miles per hour in velocity, it gained 2.1 inches of vertical movement. Given that Bass threw the pitch 39% of the time this season, there’s a large enough sample to believe those improvements are sustainable.
His sinker, which he threw 54% of the time, has never induced a lot of swing-and-miss but generates enough ground balls to make it a strong offering. Although, another tweak to his pitch usage might allow him to be a little less reliant on his sinker and take another step forward.
Only 6.8% of his pitches in 2020 were classified as splitters, but it looked like a legitimate plus pitch. Over the past three seasons, Bass has thrown a split-finger just 134 times. Opponents have whiffed on swings over 35% of the time and have gone just 3 for 34 when they did put the pitch in play.
By increasing his splitter’s use, Anthony Bass could begin to combine his abilities to limit contact with an even strong strikeout rate. Granted, even if further development is not in play, Bass was one of the best relievers in baseball in 2020 and has been a consistently solid reliever since 2018.