Let's Talk About the Bullpen Instead

Stephen Dunn - Getty Images

Oh, damn, look at that picture. The Giants reverse-won the National League West on Monday. I don't want to talk about that. Here's an article about the bullpen.

The sound of happy Dodgers fans cheering and the sight of happy Dodgers storming the field, played in a loop for eternity. The next time you're considering picking your nose in church, think about that.

It's never a good thing to watch that. It would have been much better to watch cutaway shots of forlorn Dodgers in the dugout, moping because their postseason hopes were dashed. Instead there was a walk-off win. So let's forget about it. Matt Cain was limited to 75 pitches, and Emmanuel Burriss was used on purpose. The Giants didn't even need this win, and those grapes probably tasted like Bud Light anyway. So, like, whatever.

Still stings, dammit.

Instead, let's talk about the bullpen. Because it kind of scares the hell out of me. We're talking about the playoffs -- playoffs? -- and I've seen the future. Postseason series are won with bullpens. The Cardinals didn't have a single starting pitcher go longer than five innings in the NLCS last year, for example. With the regular off days, and an extra pitcher in the bullpen, it's pretty easy to yoink a guy after four innings if you don't like what you see.

And the Giants should have some yoinkable pitchers going in the playoffs. Please don't assign your own meaning to that made-up word. Yoinkable, as in easy to pull from a game after their third walk of the third inning. Zito's yoinkable. Lincecum's yoinkable. Even the tired arm of Bumgarner lends itself to yoinkability.

Tonight's game was a bit of a trial, then. Matt Cain looked sharp through five innings, and he certainly could have stayed in the game, but he's resting like a big ol' Norwegian blue. That meant a cavalcade of relievers in a mock-yoink drill.

Jose Mijares was solid against Andre Ethier, but overextended when he had to face right-handers. He was hit hard, and he probably deserved to give up a run, if not more.

Guillermo Mota was almost sort of moderately effective, as he tends to be sometimes, if the mood strikes.

Jeremy Affeldt is a good reliever -- a groundball pitcher with strikeout stuff. He was exactly that tonight.

Santiago Casilla is the team leader in saves, so you know he's good. The Giants are 3-0 in playoff games he appears in, too, and that's just math.

Not pictured: Sergio Romo, George Kontos, and Javier Lopez, with an off chance of Clay Hensley. Brrrr. Clay Hensley.

Is this a good playoff bullpen? Paul Swydan of FanGraphs/ESPN doesn't think so:

Looking at context neutral wins, or WPA/LI, which is also a great way to look at reliever performance, we can see the Giants have slid here as well. In 2010 and 2011, they produced top-10 units, but this season they have slipped all the way to 28th in baseball -- only the Cubs and Astros have been worse.

Scary. Haunting. Also, scary.

But I'm not sure if that stat is especially predictive. As in, the Giants' relievers gave up the wrong hits at the wrong times, more so than any team that didn't lose 100 games this year. And that colors our evaluation of them, certainly. After a reliever-aided loss to the Dodgers two nights before the end of the season, it's easy to be down on the Giants' bullpen.

While I wouldn't say I have faith in Casilla, however, I'm probably higher on him than most. Affeldt is a solid middle reliever, Mijares is a good LOOGY, and Lopez is too. Romo's entire season has been a calculated stretching out, preparing him for daily use in the playoffs. Mota and Kontos are the first line of defense in a yoink game, and neither of them are dreadful long options.

And there's Barry Zito, folks. Do not forget that. He could still be in the rotation, but, heck, bring him out of the bullpen, too. More Zito, the masses clamor.

All told, it's not the best bullpen in the postseason. It's not the equivalent of the 2010 bullpen that helped the team win the World Series. It's not likely to be as good as the Cardinals' bullpen last year. But it's not that bad. Certainly nothing that requires a freakout or an article with a headline of "Giants not built for October."

It's the kind of bullpen that can cough up a game when the offense is moribund. That much we know. But there are a lot of reasons to be nervous about the playoffs. The bullpen is on the list. It's not atop the list. If these meaningless games are all about signs and omens, this one was pretty inconclusive.

Also, is there anyone out there who kind of hopes the Dodgers sneak into the playoffs because they're worse than the Cardinals? No? Just checking. I do find that picture amusing, though. I coulda made a lot of dough if I had put a sawbuck down on Elian Herrera winning the Super Bowl.

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