First game of the season for the Giants, and the bullpen’s falter in the 8th and 9th inning is terrifying. The fear comes from the reminiscence of the ghost of 2016. The addition of Mark Melancon, and departure of the core of the Giants pen, seemed to be the remedy for the expulsion of this ghost, but opening day seemed to tell a different tale.
The new setup man in the 8th inning, Derek Law, came in to relieve Madison Bumgarner, who took the Giants into the 8th with a 4-3 lead that he pretty well mustered up all alone. Law gave up back-to-back singles, before a meeting was called at the mound. Law gave up another single to Paul Goldschmidt, surrendering a run, and the lead. Ty Blach was summoned from the pen for a lefty-lefty match up against Jake Lamb, and he got him to ground out into a double play, and Bruce Bochy then went for his righty-righty matchup with Hunter Strickland against Yasmany Thomas, which ended up in a ground out to get out of the inning with a tie ball game.
My argument is that Bochy’s uncertainty on how he is going to handle his pen is, perhaps, one of the reasons for this supposed curse. Before the season started, the underlining story was that the pen would be fixed by the certainty of roles, as Melancon was the sure closer and this definitive role was going to bring stability to the pen that was not there last season. However, the setup man in the 8th gets banged up for three hits in a row, and Bochy immediately cuts the cord for his matchup ideals. These matchups end up working, and they get out of the inning relatively unscathed. However, it seems that this lack of trust for his relievers to get out of trouble may be one of the reasons the bullpen struggles when the game is tight in the late stages.
Let’s compare to the three other teams who had to pitch in tight situations in the closing stages that same day.
Their opponent, the D-backs:
J.J. Hoover comes in at the top of the 8th with his club down by one. With one out, he walks Buster Posey and allows Brandon Crawford to single. Torey Lovullo allows Hoover to get himself out of danger to end the 8th.
Fernando Rodney comes into the 9th with the game tied, and immediately gets hit for a triple. He gets a sac fly for his first out, but allows a run, to give the Giants a lead. He then allows a single, throws a wild pitch, walks Brandon Belt, throws a wild pitch, and walks Hunter Pence. Instead of pulling him after a mound visit, Lovullo allows Rodney to work out of his trouble, and Rodney gets a fly out and a ground out to end the inning.
Bottom of the 8th, down by a run, Joe Maddon uses Pedro Strop. First hitter he sees, he walks, then a pop-up, and then he allows a two-run HR. He then walks his next batter, but finally works his way out of the inning with back-to-back ground outs. Maddon uses Mike Montgomery in the bottom of the 9th of a tied game. He allows a one-out double, and Maddon comes out to talk him through the inning. He intentionally walks Yadier Molina to set up a possible inning-ending double play. He gets a K but then walks Kolten Wong, and is eventually led to his loss by a line drive to left field by Randal Grichuk.
After doing a good job getting the final two outs of the 8th, Seung Hwan Oh was asked to close out the top of the ninth. He hits Ben Zobrist with a pitch, Ks Addison Russell, then is hit for a single and hit for a three-run HR, but then closes out the inning with a K and a pop-up.
You could argue here that the D-Backs and Cards just won because of their scoring output in the 9th, and that the Cubs had the same fate as the Giants. However, what I am trying to argue is that the short leash that Bochy demonstrated in the 8th is an outlier to the other three managers, and perhaps, may be an element that has been driving the curse of the bullpen.
Bochy’s tactics get really twisted as he allows Melancon the long leash to try and work his way out of danger in the 9th. Presumably because Melancon is the undisputed closer, and he had two outs in the inning. However, it seems like the stability of the bullpen becomes unraveled as soon as the short leash is initiated in the 8th.
If Bochy believes the curse was created from the instability of not having a definitive closer, than perhaps it is also the instability of definitive roles in the pen. If he believed that Law deserves the 8th inning setup role over Strickland, then he should stick to his guns and let Law pitch out of the 8th inning. (Still not sure how Matt Cain got the fifth spot over Blach.) If he lets up and wants to shuffle up the roles for the next game, then so be it, but the shift from short leash to long leash, concrete roles to matchup roles, all seem to be unbalancing to the pen.
Nothing is more evident of this than the series against the Cubs last October. Game 3, Bochy lets Sergio Romo finish up his work in the 9th, but not before Romo had given up two runs and allowed the Cubs to tie. The Giants would end up winning this game. Game 4, on the other hand…up 5-2 in the 9th, Bochy uses Law, who immediately allows a single and is pulled for Javier Lopez. Lopez walks Anthony Rizzo and is pulled for Romo. Romo allows a double and is pulled for Will Smith. Smith allows a single, and then gets the first out on Jason Heyward’s bunt. He is then pulled for Strickland, who allows a single, but then ends the inning with a double play. The Giants end their season with a monumental bullpen collapse in the 9th inning.
This short-leash/ r-r l-l matchup tactic that Bochy sometimes uses, and sometimes does not, seems to have a role in the haunting of this Giants pen. While last year he never had the luxury of that star closer, and definitely does not have the likings of a Clippard-Betances-Chapman bullpen, I think Bochy does fare better when he allows his bullpen to settle into roles with a margin of error. Moreover, the Giants have a great bullpen of Strickland-Law-Melancon and supporting cast. However, the bullpen probably fares better when the question mark of that order disappears and the setup men have the chance to play out their roles.
Hell, we are one game into the season and do not know if the bullpen is still cursed, but if it is, perhaps the curse is caused by the handling of the pen, and not the skill within it.
Edwin Encarnacion’s eight-year stint with the Jays is over, as he has decided to move his talents to Cleveland. This leaves a gaping hole in the Jays lineup. During his six and a half seasons in Toronto, he accumulated 239 homers and 679 RBI while hitting for an average of .268. He reinvented his career when he made the switch to first base five seasons ago, as he began to play with more confidence. He has had a higher fielding average than the rest of the league at his position since he started playing 1B in 2011 — however, his defense is nothing to write home about.
Edwin will likely be replaced with Justin Smoak and Kendrys Morales. Smoak was able to swat 14 homers with 34 RBI in just 299 at-bats, and with more plate appearances, he will be capable of cutting into the missing 42 homers and 127 RBI Edwin produced last season. Furthermore, Morales hit 30 homers with 93 RBI, which are closer to Edwin’s numbers, and with the move to a more hitter-friendly field, Morales may actually be able to replicate similar numbers. It is also important to note that right-handed hitters fare better at Rogers Centre, and Morales seems to hit the ball better from the left side, as his wRC+ is 115 hitting from the left and 109 from the right. As far as WAR goes, however, Edwin’s total through 11 seasons is 27.6, while Kendrys only has 8.4 in 10 years, and Smoak has a WAR of 0.2 through six years. In this sense, Edwin has left his old home with a gaping hole.
The Tribe, however, will be happy landing this heavy-hitting righty. Mike Napoli is yet to sign this offseason, so at this point Edwin will likely share time between first base and DH with Carlos Santana. The Indians ranked 10th in the AL with 185 homers last season, thus, Edwin’s bat will help with the lack of power in their lineup. Moreover, Encarnacion’s 3.9 WAR will make him the third-most valuable hitter (tied with Jose Ramirez) in the lineup.
A three-year contract locks Edwin in Cleveland until age 36, but the 33-year-old has shown no signs of slowing down, as his WAR has hovered around 4 since turning 29. His cumulative WAR was only 7.4 in his first six seasons, compared to a WAR of 20.2 in his past five. The three-year contract still seems most favorable to Cleveland, as, if he sees a drop in numbers next season, he will have a year to recover, and if he is unable to they can drop him in 2020. For Edwin, if the Tribe is not able to replicate the success they had last season, he is stuck watching his prime go down the drain. However, with the addition of Andrew Miller, and the experience the pitching rotation gained from their run in the postseason this past October, there is no reason the Indians should not produce the same success.
So, Edwin’s new home may be a breath of fresh air for the slugger, as his power will not be outshone by a lineup of heavy hitters. And he is still with a team that gets on base a lot, and a pitching staff that has the capability of being one of the best in the majors. Additionally, playing half of his games at Progressive Field will not hurt, as he should be able to hit a few moonshots over the shallow eight-foot wall in right field.
At any rate, Edwin’s acquisition has pushed the Indians into being arguably the projected best team for the 2017 season, and it should be a cake walk to finish first in the AL Central, especially compared to the AL East Edwin is used to. He might have found a home more suitable than the one across the border.
The Giants started off their 2016 campaign with a 57-33 record before the All-star break, before finishing 87-75. There were plenty of downfalls in the second half of the season, but ultimately the bullpen led the Giants to their fate.
In the first half of the season the combined ERA of the bullpen was 2.27, with 26 saves and a K/9 of 9.7. This being said, they had 42 save opportunities, which means they blew a save 38% of the time. In the second half of the season they combined for a 2.85 ERA, with 17 saves and a K/9 of 8.4. They blew 13 saves in 30 opportunities during the second half, which means they blew a save 43% of the time.
The bullpen was heavily criticized in the second half of the season due to the team’s inability to replicate the same win rate they saw in the first half. However, the bullpen was only slightly better in the first half then it was in the second half.
To me, the Giants were in dire need of acquiring a threat in the bullpen before the trade deadline approached. They went after Will Smith, who came in to the Giants’ pen with a 2.12 ERA, 7.9 K/9 and three blown save opportunities. With the Giants he had an ERA of 2.94, a 12.8 K/9 and a blown save. He was not able to convert a save all season, and although he proved to be a nice piece in the bullpen in hold situations, he was not a guy who could come into the 9th inning and dominate the game.
In the postseason the Giants were 0/2 in save situations and, in their final game against the Cubs, their bullpen collapse was maybe the worst the league has ever seen in the playoffs. However, their rookie Ty Blach came in for 3.2 innings of relief during the postseason and did not allow an earned run. He looked promising at the end of the regular season and pitched well in high-pressure situations during October baseball. It was surprising to see him and Santiago Casilla sit out their final game, as they watched their bullpen drop four runs in the 9th. Furthermore, we saw Clayton Kershaw close the Dodgers’ final game against the Nationals to move on to the NLCS. It would have been interesting to see what kind of performance Madison Bumgarner could have shown the Cubs’ batters in that final inning.
Finally, with the veteran relievers of Javier Lopez, Sergio Romo and Casilla needing new contracts for the 2017 campaign, and the Giants in need of finding someone who can come into a 9th inning and pose a legitimate threat, it will be interesting to see what the team does in the offseason to improve their bullpen. Here are my top five predictions for the Giants’ next closer.
#1: Kenley Jansen:
It is unlikely that Aroldis Chapman will be looking for a new home this offseason, as he looks comfortable in Chicago and will have a hard time finding a team with that amount of talent. Jansen, however, may flee from the aging Dodgers, especially if someone is willing to pay. The Giants will have a bit of salary space to work with and would benefit greatly from this signing.
#2: Mark Melancon:
Although Melancon is a few steps below the elite Jansen and Chapman, he showed he can work a 9th inning as well as anyone this season. He may be a bit more team-friendly as far as salary space, and that may be intriguing to the Giants who will be looking to add a heavy-hitting left fielder.
#3: Jonathan Papelbon:
Papelbon was replaced by Melancon for the Nationals’ closing position in the second half of the 2016 season. He had a great first half, and showed he is capable of being a dominant closer in the MLB. However, his fight with Bryce Harper in 2015 and his rough second half of the season may make him a risky candidate. This may lower his cost and if the Giants are unable to sign Jansen or Melancon, they would be smart to see what Papelbon could do for their bullpen.
#4: Derek Law:
Derek Law debuted in 2016 and had a pretty good campaign. With a 2.13 ERA in 55 innings of relief, he may have a shot at being the Giants’ closer. However, it would be unlikely for him to start the 2017 season off as the Giants’ closer, unless they are unable to sign someone to fill that duty this offseason. He is an unlikely candidate, but if he can improve from his 2016 season, there is no reason he would not be able to become a legitimate MLB closer.
#5 Aroldis Chapman:
Chapman will likely return to the Cubs, especially if they make it to the World Series this October. However, he has been on three teams in the past two years, and if the Giants are able to show him more money than the Cubs, they might be able to acquire the hard-throwing lefty. If they do, they might lose the power they need to fill left field but they would come into the 2017 season looking stronger than they did a season ago.