We’re a month and a half into the season, and the Giants don’t have an alarming issue with their bullpen. Considering how the bullpen has been a festering sore since 2016, this is a welcome surprise. Rooting for the Giants has been far less interesting over the years knowing that there’s a very good chance they’ll blow a late-inning lead. Now, that’s no longer the case — or, at the very least, it’s less likely to happen.
That’s because Will Smith’s return from Tommy John surgery has been fantastic. Excellent, even. The Giants have lacked a true power lefty out of the bullpen for a while. I’m not sure if Jeremy Affeldt strictly qualifies as a “power lefty reliever” and I’m hesitant to tag Alan Embree with that label, too, mainly because he just threw a straight fastball and mainly because it’d be nice if there were better examples in recent Giants history I could recall more easily.
Instead, let’s talk about how Smith has been deployed 9 times for a total of 8 innings, struck out 11 and walked only 2. He’s allowed only an unearned run after facing 29 hitters and given up only 3 hits and a walk. Bruce Bochy has mostly limited him to “clean innings”, but he does have two mid-inning appearances and stranded 2 out of 3 baserunners.
That’s an hilariously small sample, of course, but slow playing Smith in those situations early in the season makes a lot of sense. He might be physically “back to normal”, but muscle memory is easily superseded by adrenaline. Figure he’ll need a few more weeks reacclimating to that feeling.
Once he’s “fully back”, though, the Giants will have a left-handed reliever who reliably goes 92-94 with his fastball and has an effective slider and curveball. And, like Tony Watson, he can even face the occasional right-handed batter!
The benefit of carrying two not just LOOGYs in the ‘pen should be self-evident: the Giants don’t need to react to every lineup change made by the other team. Beyond that, I like this particular two-lefty look because it gives the Giants counters to the different types of left-handed batters they’ll face.
There are the young, amped to get a fastball lefties in San Diego (Hosmer, Spangenberg, Cordero, etc.) who Watson can handle and the patient, annoying ones everywhere else (Utley, Peralta, Dyson, Bellinger) Smith can overpower on occasion. And if I’m wrong about those delineations, then simply reverse it: Smith for the youths, Watson for the olds.
Where it might start to get sloppy in the near future is in his and the other relievers’ exposure. Smith throwing multiple 1.2 innings starting midway through the fifth inning won’t produce the same results as midway through the seventh and the workload for every arm not in the rotation might preemptively sabotage the good thing the Giants have going, but in these early returns, there’s a small reason for optimism about the group and the player.