This article starts with a premise, and it goes like this: Santiago Casilla used to be good at his job. If you can’t get past that assumption, we’re going to have a tough time here, but I don’t think it’s controversial in the slightest. The Giants won the World Series in 2014 with Casilla as the closer, and it’s not like anyone spent the offseason thinking the Giants had to upgrade to get back.
Or, to put it another way, there were honest debates happening while Game 7 was going on about Casilla relieving Bumgarner for the final inning. Let’s see if we can find an appropriate analogy in retrospect:
SCREENWRITER: Ugh, I can’t decide between ending the movie with "Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship" or "Louis, let’s get so drunk we throw up blood and forget this crazy war."
PRODUCER: Don’t see why it has to be either/or, really.
And that screenwriter would be directly responsible for the Cubs being World Series favorites 70 years later. Which doesn’t really add to my point, but it’s always fascinating to me, at least.
Anyway, so Casilla was pretty good until he wasn’t, and his Giants career roughly apes Robb Nen’s in terms of effectiveness. This is why I was a Casilla apologist for so long this year. He’ll be fine. Look at his rate stats. Look at the missed bats. He’ll be fine. This is fine. Really fine, not meme fine. This is fine.
At some point, though, I hit the eject button, and it took Bruce Bochy much longer somehow. Part of that had to do with a lack of obvious solutions in Casilla’s absence. Another part of that had to do with loyalty and wanting to avoid the easy knee-jerk solution. Sometimes, though, the knees are jerking for a reason. There are good, knee-saving reasons for knees to jerk. Some of those reasons keep your knees intact!
Or to put it another way, you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you get what you kneed.
Anyway, so Casilla was pretty good until he wasn’t, and we should take a gander to see when it made the most sense to remove him from the ninth inning. Would it have mattered if it happened in time?
Probably not, but remember that Sergio Romo was removed from the ninth inning after a bad week, essentially, and that worked out well. So the question is worth asking. Also, it makes us feel worse, which is also a worthwhile goal.
Blown save #1
This was the infamous Kelby Tomlinson double play that wasn’t, which is a perfect representation of Casilla’s season. He walked Chase Utley to put the tying run on base, which was dumb, and then he allowed an 0-2 single, which was dumb, and then he hit Justin Turner with a pitch to move the runner to third, which was, perhaps, dumbest. Then he made the perfect pitch, and everything still collapsed under the dumb.
Mostly, though, we were mad at Tomlinson. This wasn’t the time to make a decision. It wasn’t even the time to talk about it.
Blown save #2
Two strikes and two outs. Oh, those are fun losses. All he needed to do was throw one more good pitch, something that wouldn’t allow Jake Lamb to pull the ball.
It was not a good pitch. Still, that was just one of those games. Closers have them! But there were a lot of fans who were starting to side-eye the Giants’ best choice for the ninth inning.
Blown save #3
The first two blown saves were in April, with the last one coming on April 18. The third blown save was May 11, and the Giants came back to win. It was actually the win that propelled them to one of the best stretches in franchise history, the streak that helped them finish the first half with the best record in baseball.
No one was doing anything but complaining about the game at this point, not the idea of Casilla as the closer. The scrutiny builds, though ...
Blown save #4
Before this one, Casilla’s ERA was 1.74. I know ERA isn’t a good metric for relievers, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a stat that tells a little bit of the story. Most of the time, Casilla was preventing runs. He had been preventing them as the closer for a long time. Players like that don’t get shuffled around. Nor should they be.
That doesn’t mean he wasn’t stressful as all heck. But he wasn’t at peak failure yet.
Blown save #5
In between blown saves, Casilla lost two games that he entered when the score was tied in the ninth, and he also allowed three runs in tune-up work when the Giants were down, 10-9. The Giants would eventually score two runs in the bottom half of the inning, which suggests that if Casilla could have prevented the A’s from scoring, they would have had their only thrilling come-from-behind ninth inning of the year.
These add up in your mental ledger.
But the next blown save was the balk game, the statement of a meltdown that made us wonder if everything was going to melt down (spoiler: yes). It was one of the quickest, messiest blown saves I’ve ever seen, and at this point it was completely plausible to wonder if Casilla was the right pitcher for the job.
It also would have been plausible to pull him at this point. It was a rough month for him.
Blown save #6
This was another two-out special, this time coming on a three-run homer to Jonathan Schoop. The curveball was a special kind of incompetent, just floating up over the plate, which was the only thing Casilla could not do.
At the same time, it had been a month since the last blown save, and the peripherals were all okay, still, and really, Casilla entered that game with a 2.76 ERA, which is still pretty closer-y, and he was still a familiar contributor, someone who was supposed to be a known quantity.
That curveball, though.
That curveball was so bad.
That was the game. This was the answer. This was when it made realistic sense to go to someone else. Doing it any earlier would have been reactive in a way that could have made the whole bullpen uneasy and jittery. Doing it later might have ruined the season.
Blown save #7
The Cubs game. And this was when it was absolutely, no question, no doubt, c’mon time to try something else. This when Casilla would have removed himself from closer if he were the manager.
This was when it was unambiguously clear that Bochy was screwing up.
And yet ...
Blown save #8
This was the extra innings game the Giants won, and it was the perfect time to step back, thank Casilla for his service, and go in a different direction. No harm (well, some harm), no foul.
After the fifth blown save was the perfect time with the benefit of hindsight. After the sixth blown save made the most sense as a realistic reaction at the time. The seventh blown save is when it became hard to believe it was still going on.
This game was just unbelievable.
Blown save #9
Casilla had some bad luck in this one, too. A double play that wasn’t, with defensive positioning to blame instead of a specific player. At no point did it make sense that he was still in the game, though.
Add it up, and I’d wager that by trying a new closer after August 15th was the perfect mix of feasibility and traditional managerial strategy. The sign on the door says, "If you hang a curveball that poorly, you don’t get another chance." Or, at least, it should.
It’s a little too simple to suggest the Giants would have four more wins if they made the move then, but they’d almost certainly be in a better spot. Maybe we’ll think about this in a week when the postseason starts without the Giants. Or maybe we won’t think about it in a month because we’ll be enjoying the parade too mhahahahahaaaaaa.
Either way, it sure happened. And some of it certainly could have been prevented. It doesn't take too much hindsight to see that.