For all the complaining about the Giants bullpen in the early going this year, a cursory look at the stat sheet will tell you the plain and simple truth: only two teams have had more instances of a reliever coming into a game with a lead, and then throwing some pitches, and then being scooped up by a giant bird, and then fighting the giant bird as it tries to fly him out of the stadium to its giant bird nest, and then being dropped by the giant bird from 70 feet in the air onto the netting behind home plate, which he frantically holds on to in order to survive the fall.
At least, that's what I assume a hold is. I've never been quite clear on that.
And now that I've given you that one good stat, here are some others: the Giants are 21st in the majors in bullpen ERA, tied for 24th in save percentage, tied for third in blown saves, and Fangraphs has them, as a unit, at 0.1 win above replacement level. That last stat sounds incredibly damning, but considering that replacement level is defined as freely available talent from AAA, it can't be right; replacement level, we have met ye, and ye's name is Vin Mazzaro, and the bullpen as a whole isn't quite as bad as ye.
What's behind the bullpen's poor performance? And don't say "Bad players," because if you say that, everyone gets to slap you in the face over the Internet. It's an ironclad rule I just made up, and I'm not changing it until my analysis gets lazier.
The Giants bullpen has the third lowest strikeout rate of any team in the league, which doesn't bode well for them. The somewhat make up for that by having the sixth best walk rate, and since they play in AT&T park half the time, they don't allow many homers. According to some of Fangraphs's calculations, xFIP in particular, they are actually underperforming their peripherals by a bit, and should be much closer to average than bad.
On the other hand, the bullpen has had a serious problem in one area, and the effects of that have cascaded. That problem: lefty-righty splits. I thought I'd compare every pitcher in the bullpen in how they face lefty and right hitters (Albert Suarez's numbers include his start in Atlanta, because it was too much work to isolate his bullpen performance).I did that by making you a table. I like tables:
|LH Batters Faced
|vs L wOBA
|vs L FIP
|RH Batters Faced
|vs R wOBA
|vs R FIP
Here, let me simplify that for you and get to the real meat of the problem. Just to be clear in this one, a positive number means a large split, so, for example, this table wlil show Santiago Casilla is 0.171 points of wOBA worse against lefties.
And just one more, to sum things up. Since I couldn't find these calculations on Fangraphs, I did them myself and so if they're wrong, blame Fangraphs for not doing them already.
I chose wOBA and FIP because one (wOBA) is one number to represent what we've been watching hitters do against the Giants bullpen, and the other (FIP) is one number to represent about how well the Giants bullpen has pitched. They help put the numbers into perspective, and here's the perspective: Against the Giants bullpen, the platoon advantage turns hitters from the desiccated corpse of Jimmy Rollins into 2016 Josh Donaldson. In pitching terms, the platoon difference is basically the same as the difference between Jeff Samardzija and Jered Weaver this year.
But all these problems compound, and lead to even more problems. Do you want to know why the Giants are tied for the second most bullpen appearances of any team? It's because in any tight game, Bruce Bochy would be literally insane to not play the matchups. Strickland and Law are the only two righties who have had any success against left-handers, and Strickland's spotty historical record in that area has meant that he gets treated with the same kid gloves as everyone else. If the team uses four or five relievers a night, then those arms get burned out and start pitching worse, which leads to Bochy having to use more relievers, and it's a vicious cycle.
The Giants bullpen has suffered from awful platoon splits all year, and the only hope of it getting better is a general sense of, "Well, it can't stay this bad forever." Even if some of the more extreme cases even out a bit, they'll still have this problem. There's not a lot of reason to think that Josh Osich is the new Jeremy Affeldt, Santiago Casilla had very similar splits last year, and if and when Sergio Romo comes back, he's had this problem since 2013. Presumably Bobby Evans will make a minor trade for a reliever in the next couple months, but until then, good luck everyone. Let's see some more complete games.