Back when Santiago Casilla was Jairo Garcia, he was an Internet sensation among baseball nerds. It seems quaint now, but people were enamored of his 14.9 strikeouts per nine innings between Class-A and Triple-A. Nowadays, we have relievers doing that in the majors, but back in my day, it was a big deal if anyone did it anywhere.
He stopped throwing strikes. Also, he got hit around. Also, he was hurt. Also, he didn't do anything in his major league trial with the A's. Also, he revealed he was three years older and pitching under an assumed name. Casilla's star dimmed. When he signed with the Giants the January before the 2010 season, there was no reason to think he would beat out Merkin Valdez for a spot in the bullpen.
Six seasons later, and Casilla has the lowest reliever ERA in Giants history.
Wild story. But you might have sniffed at the use of ERA to evaluate Casilla's efficiency, and you're not wrong. Even though he's thrown 336 innings with the Giants, that's still not a super-huge sample when it comes to trusting ERA. His FIP is nearly a full run higher over the last six seasons, which suggests that either he's been lucky, or he's been purposely and effectively wild in a way that's impossible for newfangled stats to evaluate.
So either Casilla is one of the very best relievers in Giants history, or he's a ticking time bomb. Six of one, half-dozen of the other, really.
This is a late-afternoon poll and comment starter. You have to choose which camp you're in. There's the results-speak-for-themselves camp, in which Casilla is excellent and there's no reason to think he'll suddenly stop. And there's the stat-friendly camp, where Casilla's strikeouts, walks, and age all suggest that he's a bad statistical bet for 2016, just as he was in the six (excellent) seasons before this one. Your choice can be boiled down to one simple question:
Do you think Casilla ends the season as the Giants' closer?
Marcel is a simple forecasting system that uses past results, pays more attention to the recent results, and factors in a player's age. It suggests Casilla will be fine, more or less.
ZiPS is a more complicated forecasting system that uses past results and historical comparisons. It suggests Casilla will be fine, more or less.
So why are we talking about it? Casilla will be 35, for one, and here are the career over-35 save leaders for the Giants in the last 25 years.
- Tim Worrell, 44
- Mike Stanton, 8
- Guillermo Mota, 2
- Rich Rodriguez, 2
- Javier Lopez, 1
- Rick Reuschel, 1
It's not exactly a formidable group. Saying a pitcher will fail because he's in his mid-30s is lazy. Assuming a pitcher in his mid-30s can do exactly what he's done in the past because it's what he's done in the past? Just as lazy. There's a happy middle spot, and it doesn't have to be dripping with cynicism.
But a slightly worse Santiago Casilla is really, really close to a borderline closer. There were torchforks and talk-radio segments out to get him last year, remember. Do you remember the shame and misery of the A.J Pierzynski game last year? I sure do. It was one of the more ... oh, no, there's bile everywhere now. I hope that's bile. Wait, I hope that isn't bile. I'm not sure which one is preferable, really. Hold on, I'll get some towels.
The point is that if Casilla is a little shakier, a little more stressful, those opinions will get louder. This time, the Giants will have a seasoned Hunter Strickland throwing 100 behind him, as well as the cavalry of youngsters in reserve. And Sergio Romo has certainly pitched well enough to reclaim his job, if we want to be fair about this.
It just seems that betting against Casilla has been a really great way to be wrong over the last six years.
I'm inclined to believe he'll be the closer the entire year, but that's just the ol' gut of McCovey Chronicles talking. You might disagree. Well, there's a poll for you. Vote in the poll.