Throughout the doom and gloom of the offseason, most of us expected this team to be bad. There might have been disagreements as to just how bad -- once-in-a-generation bad, or eighth sign of the apocalypse bad? -- but few fans had any illusions about the state of the team.
The bullpen wasn't a factor in my personal pessimism, though. The bullpen was pretty iffy last year. It could still be wretched for the rest of this year. But there's no sense in worrying about a bullpen in April, just as there is no sense in being excited about a bullpen before the season starts. Bullpen agnosticism doesn't get enough respect in the world of baseball nerds. Felix Rodriguez is good until he isn't. Pat Neshek is a minor-league relief ace until he's a major league relief ace. The names change, but the volatility remains the same.
But here's what I like about the current state of the Giants bullpen:
- The late-inning guys can strike hitters out. Last season, Brad Hennessey, Steve Kline, and Randy Messenger were used in high-leverage situations, which meant that too many balls were put in play. Brian Wilson, Merkin Valdez, Jack Taschner, and, hopefully, Erick Threets all have a better chance to strand inherited runners and keep the pressure off the defense. He's only thrown seven innings, but Tyler Walker looks nasty. His pitches look nasty, too. He had stretches of nastiness in his first stint with the Giants, but he would struggle with his control and consistency. He didn't have his split/change thingamabob back then, though, and that's a big part of the current nastiness.
- With the exception of Walker and Taschner, all of the late-inning guys are under 30. I suppose that doesn't make a difference if you subscribe to the bullpen agnosticism detailed above, but it at least adds to the veneer of youth on the team.
- The boring types -- Hennessey, Yabu, and Chulk -- aren't going to be tossed into late-inning situations unless the current late-inning folks stumble. As far as managerial trust goes, the early success of Walker, Wilson, and Valdez means a lot more than a good stretch in June. I don't mean "boring types" to be overly derisive, but there isn't a whole bunch of upside with the Hennelkabu trio. Chulk had a nice 2007, and he might yet forge a Tim Worrell kind of career, so it might be a mistake to lump him in with Yabu and Hennessey, but he isn't exactly a future closer.
It isn't as if the bullpen has been lights out -- only two guys have an ERA under 4.00 (Yabu and Merkin) -- but as far as watchability is concerned, the Giants are sending the right guys out in the late innings. Will watchability prevent 100 losses? Dunno. It's fun for now, though.