The scenario: Tie game, seventh inning. Our intrepid skipper calls for…a guy with five innings of MLB experience? A guy who had never even pitched above AA until a couple of weeks ago?
The result: Double, out, home run. The loss is given to the reliever in question.
The analysis: This is probably one of my favorite things about Bruce Bochy.
Managing a bullpen has to be one of the ficklest things in a manager’s job description. The urge to react in a knee-jerk fashion has to be strong. Two consecutive outings with three-run homers? It’d be just so easy to justify an ol’-fashioned banishment. Tyler Walker hasn’t been scored upon in 32 of his 41 outings, but in five of the outings in which he has given up a run, he’s given up several. In one particularly horrid stretch, Walker gave up 11 earned runs in four innings. Yet Bochy kept running him out there in the eighth inning.
Good. I like a manager who isn’t worried about a reliever’s ERA. Walker is striking hitters out, and the rate of home runs he’s allowed is disproportionate to his career average. He’s a perfect example of Bochy’s commitment to non-panic. Unfortunately for the Giants’ deadline trade hopes, Walker’s ERA isn’t going to make him worth a whole lot. But he’s a better pitcher than his ERA would indicate.
The youngsters don’t need long to ingratiate themselves to Bochy, either. After Alex Hinshaw’s debut in a four-run deficit, Bochy started bringing him into closer and closer games. Young relievers are innocent until proven guilty. Again, after ten years of Dusty and four subsequent years of the worst bullpen management I hope to ever see in my lifetime (Felipe Alou), this is beyond refreshing.
Almost every young reliever the Giants have could stand to throw more strikes, but that's why it's nice that they're getting innings. So instead of giving letter grades to every reliever in the bullpen, I’ll just give a solid B+ to how I feel about the future of the bullpen. Hinshaw, Romo, and Matos are getting innings, Wilson is going to be given every chance to be the closer for the next half-decade, and Taschner should be either cheap or tradable for a long time. The promotions might have left the organization a little thin, but Geno Espineli and Justin Hedrick are still in the high minors, and hopefully Merkin Valdez comes back soon. Yabu and Walker are taking the bulk of the high-leverage innings, so the burden isn't entirely on the youth.
If you needed a one-sentence explanation to sum up my overall satisfaction with how the bullpen has been handled, here it is: Scott Munter is back in the organization, but the Giants preferred to bring up promising relievers from AA rather than go down the same unproductive path again when a need came up. If I had the time to photoshop the head of Bruce Bochy on a picture of Gold Five, I would.