STAT LINE: 49 G / 45 IP / 3.97 ERA / 1.412 WHIP / Missed 60 days due to punching a door
ROLE ON THE 2018 TEAM: Hunter Strickland was the obvious choice for closer after Mark Melancon started the season on the disabled list. And he was pretty good at it! He only allowed two earned runs in the month of April and none in June, before things took a turn for the worse.
On June 14th, the Giants were in Miami facing the Marlins in the getaway game of a four-game series. They were facing the Miami Marlins for the fourth of seven games they would play against them in a little over a week. Just to set the mood.
In the ninth inning, with the Giants leading 3-2, Strickland ended up getting a blown save on an unearned run caused by an error by Joe Panik, which allowed Lewis Brinson the opportunity to drive in the tying run. The game would last 16 innings and the Giants would go on to win it in the form of a two-run single from Pablo Sandoval. Great times! Everyone moved on, right?
Hahaha, of course not.
Strickland next faced Brinson on June 18th, in San Francisco this time. He threw up and in towards Brinson’s chin. Brinson then hit a single to tie the game and flipped his bat along the way.
This led to a great number of things.
First, Strickland would go on to give up two more runs and get his first blown-save loss of the season. It happens. No closer is perfect and reasonable people understand that and move on to the next game.
No one has ever accused Strickland of being reasonable, though. And he took out his frustration with this loss on a door. Or on his hand, depending on your point of view.
Now, for some perspective, Madison Bumgarner had only recently come back from having his hand broken at the end of spring training, and this was roughly around the same time that Evan Longoria had his hand broken in the FIRST series against the Marlins.
Now Bruce Bochy had to look the beat writers in the eye and explain to them that the team’s closer, a man who is paid to use his hand to throw a baseball, used said hand to punch a door instead and would miss two months.
This led to the great plunk war, or one of them anyway. As retaliation was taken against...Lewis Brinson, for some reason. For making The Hulk angry, I guess.
Anyway, Strickland did indeed miss two months and when he got back, his role in the bullpen was not waiting for him and it seemed that any faith that might have been placed in him before his tantrum had now been lost. Strickland saw himself used in lower leverage spots, with low-to-moderate success.
His velocity was down, and in the final two months of the season, Strickland sported a 6.59 ERA in 13.1 innings of work and ended the season by allowing three earned runs in the disastrous 15-0 loss to the Dodgers in the final game of the year. A pretty fitting end to his season and the Giants’ season.
However, will it be the fitting end of his time with the Giants?
ROLE ON THE 2019 TEAM: Unknown. Though I would probably say that about a lot of players until the Giants hire a new president of baseball operations, Strickland may be a different situation.
Strickland is entering his second year of arbitration and will likely be looking at $2-3 million for next season. But it’s hard to see a need for him at this point. He let the team down when he was given an opportunity to shine in a high-pressure role, and he didn’t impress when he returned from that let-down. There are other and better options in the bullpen, which is a refreshing change of pace and one of the only bright spots of the 2018 season.
The Giants may look to trade him if they are happy with those other options and ready to move on. Time will tell, but if he stays with the team, we will likely see him continue in low-pressure situations until he proves to the coaches that he can keep his cool.
I don’t think I need to elaborate beyond the “broke his own hand in a fit of pique” part. I’m not giving him an F based on his last two months, it was obvious he was not up to full strength and he will likely bounce back to some degree.
In any other situation, I would have some sympathy for the player and grade on an injury-adjusted bell curve. But not for pitchers who get angry and punch doors. That’s all on him and he gets to own it for the purposes of this exercise, and likely for the rest of his career.