The Giants have a five-game lead in the National League West. They have as many wins as any team in baseball. They’ve have two separate eight-game winning streaks, and they’ve exceeded expectations in an injury-marred season. This is a good team in the middle of an excellent season.
And I can’t express in words just how irritated this team can make me.
Which is bad because that’s literally my job! This team, this bullpen, makes my brain mushy, mostly because I just don’t know what the answer is, and that makes me want to equivocate and blame other things. Why, the bullpen is fine, just having a bad stretch, look at their (ERAs, inherited runners, FIPs, K/BB, what have you). You wouldn’t have even noticed the bullpen if Conor Gillaspie can make the tough play on DJ LeMahieu for the third out in the seventh inning. Is it the bullpen’s fault that they got him to hit a baseball so weakly the third baseman had to rush his throw?
That is a consideration, alright, because Matt Duffy might have made that play. I’ll even grant that he probably would have made that play.
But those words are hollow. If the bullpen needs an infield of Gold Glove finalists just to appear functional, they’re probably dysfunctional. Just imagine what a real, bat-missing bullpen would do with that kind of defense, for example. The defense would be the finishing move, not the entire mechanism that powers the Rube Goldberg machine.
The Giants’ bullpen puts a lot of pressure on their defense. The average National League reliever strikes out 22 percent of the batters they face. Santiago Casilla does much better than that. Derek Law and Hunter Strickland are roughly average. The rest of the bullpen is below average, and when it comes to George Kontos and Josh Osich, they’re way below average.
It’s not impossible to build a bullpen out of pitch-to-contact hitters, especially with a strong infield defense. It’s just a heckuva lot easier to build a bullpen out of nasty, cheese-throwing galoots. Especially when you can’t count on the defense to stay healthy for 162 games.
But that brings us back to what the Giants can actually do, here. Let’s say the Yankees really are giving up Andrew Miller (despite them saying they’re not). And let’s say out of allllllll the prospect packages, the Yankees are fascinated with whatever the Giants can offer. Christian Arroyo, Phil Bickford, Mac Williamson, Tyler Beede, and your favorite prospect to be named later. Their scouts are fascinated with all of them for some reason, and the Giants have the best reliever in baseball now. They did it.
In a game like this, it means that Strickland is still out there in the seventh, trying to break the invisible glass pane in the middle of the plate. It means that Gearrin comes in an inning earlier, where Nolan Arenado might be lurking.
Let’s take a break to watch the worst slider you will see in your entire existence, especially when you consider the count, the score, the number of outs, and to whom it was thrown:
Gearrin entered the game with a 2.97 ERA and a 3.71 xFIP, which suggests that he was getting fairly lucky when it came to his fly balls staying in the ballpark. He left the game with a 3.89 ERA and a 3.91 xFIP. Science!
Go down the list of bullpen trade options and remember that at the cost of the entire farm system — and that’s if they Yankees didn’t demand Joe Panik until the Giants hung up — the Giants would get about 35 get-out-of-a-potential-nightmare-inning-free cards. That would leave about 225 innings or so that the rest of the bullpen would have to absorb for the rest of the season. The Giants would still have to get through the seventh and ninth innings. Unless they get a seventh-inning guy, which isn't inspiring at all.
Miller would make the team better in this example, but even if you pretend like the Giants have a shot at a true lockdown reliever, you have to deal with the sad truth that the rest of the bullpen still needs to pitch better.
Now go through the real trade targets. Jeanmar Gomez. Alex Colome. Nate Jones. Ryan Madson. They’ll take 35 innings away from the current reliever who loses his job, and that’s no small point. But it’s still just 35 innings, when there are still so, so many innings to go around.
Which is a very long-winded way of saying that the Giants might make a trade. They would be wise to make a trade. Maybe two. But the bullpen is still going to put clumps of hair on your food until Derek Law, Hunter Strickland, Cory Gearrin, Josh Osich, Javier Lopez, George Kontos, Sergio Romo, and/or Santiago Casilla start pitching better.
That’s the real answer. Make a modest trade, hope it’s Lopez-like in its timing, and hope the rest of the bullpen snaps into place.
Does that encourage you? Are you filled with newly found confidence in the 2016 Giants bullpen?
You are not encouraged. You are not filled with newly found confidence. But that’s the only reasonable answer right now. The Giants’ bullpen has to pitch better until the help arrives. Once that happens, they’ll still need to pitch better.
It’s a lonely feeling to realize that after the ostensible setup man just hung the world’s worst slider to Nolan Arenado, pursuant to MLB rules, a couple days after another miserable blown save, which came a couple days after another miserable blown save, which came a couple days after another miserable blown save, which ..