Santiago Casilla came into a tough situation last night. The Giants were up by one in the eighth inning, there were two men on and two outs. This is exactly the situation where you want to bring in your shutdown reliever, your high leverage guy, the one reliever you trust more than any other on the staff. How did Giants fans on Twitter respond to Caslila coming in? Here's one representative example:
CASILLA FOR FOUR OUTS WHAT COULD GO WRONG— groug (@moonwalkmcfly) April 26, 2016
Ha ha, what kind of stupid jerk would say that, right?
Santiago Casilla has spent his entire Giants career being underappreciated. Back in February, Grant asked if he'd finish the year at closer and only 40% of respondents said yes. He had an extremely bad 2015 facing lefties (which was a fluke), but his ERA was still 2.79, so it's not like he was a disaster. When he became the closer, there wasn't an article here about it (the closest thing was a note about how Romo's struggles would likely drive down his price in the offseason). And the last time Grant wrote about him before that, it was in 2013, to talk about how he just didn't trust the guy, no matter how good he was at not giving up runs.
Time is a flat slider, y'all.
So why are Giants fans so wary of Casilla? The first thing to consider is that he does blow some saves. He's already at 2 in just 6 attempts in 2016. Last year, he blew 6 saves in 44 attempts, and in 2014 he blew 4. And back in his first stint as closer in 2012, he blew a bunch of saves in a few week period in early July that made Bruce Bochy take him out of the closer role and give it to Sergio Romo.
Now, there are some mitigating factors. In 2012, Casilla was dealing with a particularly nasty blister that drained him of his effectiveness. Those blown saves happened, of course, but unless the blister comes back, they don't have a lot of predictive power. And in 2014, that stat of 4 blown saves includes the 3 that happened before he was a closer, which would be more properly classified as Blown Holds. That's a stat I just invented, because baseball needs more stats that don't give any useful information.
So really, all of the legitimate uncertainty about Casilla as closer comes from the last couple years. And while we hope for better performances than what he's shown, if you look at his lefty/righty splits last year as uncharacteristic and unlikely to be repeated, then dismissing Santiago Casilla, ignoring the excellent reliever that he is (best ERA for a reliever in Giants history, as Grant showed in February), is foolish.
Of course, it's not just the dumb Holtzman abomination stats that are down on Casilla; the smarter McCracken revelations don't like him either. Since coming to San Francisco, Casilla's FIP has careened from decent to abysmal, while his ERA never once dropped below very good. Or above. Language can be tricky. The point is, Casilla's worst ERA in a season since becoming a Giant (2.84) is still lower than his best season for FIP in San Francisco (3.10). I feel comfortable saying that there is something about his performance that FIP doesn't get, and just like it did with Matt Cain and xFIP, that will certainly go on forever.
But I think the biggest thing is that Casilla never got that iconic October moment. Brian Wilson struck out Nelson Cruz in 2010, and you can still see it in your mind. Romo ended the 2012 World Series with a strikeout, and you know who the batter was, and what pitch Romo threw, and why it worked, and why just the idea to throw it was so brilliant. Those images are burned in your mind. Can you remember a single appearance Casilla made in the 2014 postseason? Maybe, but not with anywhere near the clarity or joy of those series.
I'm not saying that I wish Casilla had closed out the 2014 World Series instead of Madison Bumgarner; that would obviously be extremely silly. But I am saying that the fact that he didn't, the fact that the team didn't need him to, took away his opportunity to have the trust of the fans in big situations. Casilla seems like he's constantly being dinged by fans for things that aren't his fault. Is there anyone else in San Francisco history whose incredibly impressive on-field accomplishments are so readily dismissed?
Okay, probably Bobby Bonds, when he was playing. Point there, person who thought of Bobby Bonds.
I think we should all be nicer to Santiago Casilla, who has been a phenomenal pitcher for the Giants for lots of years. And we should appreciate him more, because one day your cyborg grandchildren will ask you why people spent 7 years being nervous to see Casilla enter a game, and you will honestly have no idea.