Is SF Giants closer Camilo Doval's recent struggles due to fatigue or just a slump?

San Francisco Giants v Colorado Rockies
San Francisco Giants v Colorado Rockies / Dustin Bradford/GettyImages

SF Giants closer Camilo Doval has not been the same recently. He was a lockdown closer in the first half of the season, but he has struggled lately. Is it due to fatigue or just a rough patch?

Is SF Giants closer Camilo Doval's recent struggles due to fatigue or just a slump?

Doval was about as good of a closer as one could be in the first half of the season. He posted a 2.63 ERA with 26 saves in 28 opportunities. This included 57 strikeouts against 17 walks. The young reliever flashes a fastball that consistently reaches triple digits with a slider that is just as effective.

Opposing hitters are hitting just .160 against his slider compared to a .176 batting average against his cutter. The sinker, which was a huge pitch for him in 2022, has been far less effective as opposing hitters have a .317 batting average against it.

The hard-throwing reliever has modified his pitch mix where his slider (36.2 percent) is his primary option, but the cutter (33.0 percent) is not far behind in terms of usage. Whether it is his slider or his cutter, Doval has been tough to hit for opposing hitters. Again, being able to throw 100 MPH certainly helps.

It is no surprise that Doval earned his first NL All-Star bid. He was arguably the best closer in the NL in the first half of the season, so it was a well-deserved honor.

Since then, Doval has not been the same. He has still been solid, but not nearly like the reliever we saw earlier in the year. In the second half of the season, he has tallied a 3.91 ERA, 10.2 K/9, and a 2.89 SO/W ratio across 23 innings. The strikeout rate has declined and he has been far less effective in save situations as he recorded 11 saves in 19 opportunities.

The blown save totals have increased, especially lately. Over his last 13 outings, Doval has blown five saves. It almost happened again on Sunday against the Colorado Rockies as he came in with a five-run lead, but was unable to secure the save after allowing four runs to cross home plate. Taylor Rogers did come in to collect the save.

So, what is going on with Doval? One of the common theories is fatigue due to overuse. The Giants lead baseball with 654.1 innings out of the bullpen in 2023. Though, the caveat with that is that they have relied heavily on bulk innings pitchers such as Sean Manaea and Jakob Junis.

The fact that they lead baseball in innings is a little misleading given that pitching roles have been fluid. Perhaps, if the Giants were taxing the bullpen, there would be a lot of relievers outside of their workload range.

That has certainly been the case with Ryan Walker, who has pitched a combined 76 innings between Triple-A and the majors this year. His previous career high as a pro was 59 innings, so the case could be made that the Giants have overused him in 2023.

With the exception of him, it is hard to make the case for anyone else. Doval, for example, completed 67.2 innings last season in 68 appearances, and he is inching toward that number this year with 64 innings in 65 outings. His workload is similar, but he remained effective throughout the season in 2022.

So, his workload is not abnormally high. In fact, he is in line with last year's usage. Of course, it bears mentioning that the margin of error just might be lower this year. That said, the Giants played in 49 one-run games last year compared to 41 one-run games this season. So, while his workload remains manageable, the Giants, as a team, are playing in fewer one-run games with only 12 games to go.

I only mention this because pitching with one-run leads can wear a pitcher out. That does not seem to be the case with Doval. Plus, his fastball velocity still averaged 98.6 MPH on Sunday compared to an average of 99.8 MPH this year. So, there is a decline, but not one that definitively suggests fatigue. Pitching in Coors Field may have been a factor as well.

Doval's control has not been sharp lately. That was a problem for him when he was in the minors as he averaged 5.1 BB/9 in five seasons. It was a problem early on in 2021 as well. Control will likely be a factor throughout Doval's career, but the margin of error currently is high because he throws so hard.

So, are his struggles a function of fatigue or a mechanical glitch? It is probably somewhere in the middle. Most players are worn down at this point in the season. They have been playing for seven months straight, including spring training.

Players go through good stretches and bad stretches during the season. Doval is in the midst of a bad stretch. It will happen every year with every player. There is little reason to be concerned about Doval as he has established himself as one of the better relievers in baseball. This is a tough stretch for the Giants because a lot of their success depends on Doval, but he should be back to normal sooner rather than later.