Who is to blame for the SF Giants bullpen woes in 2023?
By Jeff Young
We are one month into the season and the SF Giants are off to a rough 11-16 start. The bullpen has been an unfortunate narrative so far this season and it feels like some of it could be avoided.
Who is to blame for the SF Giants bullpen woes in 2023?
The Giants dropped a 6-4 game against the San Diego Padres on Sunday. They held the lead for much of the game before Tyler Rogers and Camilo Doval struggled to preserve the lead. The combined to yield thee earned runs and the lead while recording just three outs.
More often than not, Rogers and Doval are going to get the job done. They have proven to be reliable relievers throughout their respective careers.
The bullpen struggles have continued into 2023. Last year, the Giants bullpen posted a 4.08 ERA, which was the 11th-worst mark in baseball. That unit has been even worse this year with a 6.07 ERA, which is the third-worst figure in baseball.
When it comes to the bullpen, I do not know if the blame for the root cause is fairly applied to one individual or area. It is usual a couple of factors that lead us to where we are today. I will say that I realize that Kapler's bullpen management, at times, receives criticism. Some of it is fair. Some of it is not.
He has certainly had some maneuvers this year that will make you scratch your head. That said, he just does not have the options either. In my opinion, the composition is a much larger problem. Even the best bullpen manager in baseball would struggle with this unit.
So, it is hard to fairly evaluate Kapler's management in some situations because he does not have a lot to worth with. The current iteration of the bullpen has eight relievers. Three of those are bulk innings arms in Jakob Junis, Tristan Beck, and Sean Hjelle.
Every bullpen needs a good bulk innings reliever. However, having three really hamstrings the rest of the unit because these are not typically late-innings relievers. The case could certainly be made that the Giants need extra extra long man because the rotation just is not going deep into games.
Giants starters currently average just over five innings per start. That means the bullpen is tasked with averaging 12 outs per game. Is this issue specific to the Giants? The league is averaging 5.17 innings per start, so Giants starters are recording about 0.5 fewer outs per start. That does not seem to move the needle, but this highlights how baseball is evolving where starters are not expected to soak up six or seven innings per start.
The rest of the bullpen includes Doval, Rogers, Taylor Rogers, John Brebbia, and Scott Alexander. In fairness to Taylor Rogers, he has been better in recent outings after a disastrous start to the season. However, there has been a pretty sharp decline in his sinker velocity over the past two seasons that has also coincided with two of the worst years of his career.
He might need to reinvent himself but the Giants are counting on him to be an important arm in the bullepn. They are also counting on Luke Jackson to return. Right now, they can only realistically rely on Doval, Brebbia, Alexander, and Tyler Rogers.
In essence, it is the same core as last year. They spent $33 million on Taylor Rogers and $11.5 million on Jackson. Yet, the bullpen is still a disaster. I cannot help but blame the front office on this one.
They had a very obvious need. They tried to address it with two higher-profile signings, but really did a poor job in terms of depth. Outside of the core relievers, the Giants have very little depth on the 40-man roster.
They have Keaton Winn, José Cruz, Rando Rodriguez, and Cole Waites. Winn is a starting pitcher, but could transition to the bullpen better than what we have seen from Hjelle or Beck so far. Cruz, Rodriguez, and Waites have a combined 5.2 innings of experience in the majors.
Cruz is pitching in High-A, whereas Rodriguez is in Double-A. Could they be added to the active roster at some point? Sure, but it probably would have an adverse impact on their development.
Could the Giants have better fortified the bullpen in case someone like Taylor Rogers struggled? I think that is the issue. Alex Young and Gregory Santos finished last year on the 40-man roster, but both were jettisoned off of it in the winter. Young has a 0.73 ERA, whereas Santos has a 2.03 ERA so far in 2023.
Can either pitcher sustain that? Probably not, but it feels like a miscalculation given how they have performed in the early going relative to how the Giants' bullpen has looked. Need more examples?
Shelby Miller finished last year with the Giants. In a very brief showing, he looked like an intriguing reliever. Could the Giants have counted on him? He has missed substantial time with injuries, but a move to the bullpen feels like the best long-term fit for the veteran pitcher.
Instead, he signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers on a one-year, $1.5 million deal. He has a 1.50 ERA so far in 2023. Will Smith ($1.5 million) and Matt Moore ($7.55 million) signed late in winter and they have posted a 1.35 ERA and 1.93 ERA, respectively.
I know these are examples of pitchers with Giants ties, but there are plenty of other examples. These were players under team control or signed for relatively low salaries. The risk was low but the payoff could have been nice as other teams are seeing.
That is typically the case with relievers. They are not going to consistent from a year-to-year basis, but if you sign enough, then one or two of them will hit. What would the Giants bullpen look like if they had a Santos or Smith in it at the moment? The bullpen would not be fixed entirely, but the outlook would be more promising.
For an organization that preaches depth. It feels like they missed pretty badly in constructing this year's bullpen. The roster have some quality components, but if the relievers cannot preserve leads, it may not matter at the end of the day and that's a rough miscalculation.