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Trevor Gott continued the Giants’ tradition of discovering discarded bullpen gems

He’s proof that analytics can be used to make players better.

San Francisco Giants v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

Stat Line

50 games, 52.2 IP, 7-0, 4.44 ERA, 3.12 FIP, 57/17 K/BB, 0.9 fWAR

Trevor Gott’s old team is just one win away from winning its first World Series, but it’s easy to imagine they could’ve already won it had they just kept him on the team. That’s how this works, right?

The Nationals traded the hard-throwing reliever before Spring Training ever began. Last year, in 20 games, the then-25 year old had an astonishingly bad 6.21 FIP in 19 innings with a 15/10 K/BB. He was not good and Washington wanted to keep that 40-man roster spot open for a better player.

It wound up working out for them in that here they are in the World Series, but oh man do they still not trust their bullpen. Gott didn’t give them much of a reason to believe he could be a guy this year, but what did they miss that the Giants saw?

Gott’s season ended early after a groin strain and a series of elbow problems, so again, the trade worked out for the Nationals; but, before all those injuries hit, his first couple of months as a Giant were remarkable: a 3.00 ERA in 24 IP with a 25/6 K/BB, and an opponent’s batting line of .169/.231/.265 and allowed just one home run.

He quickly became another member of the Giants “found money” pitcher Hall of Fame, which, since 2009, looks something like this, which into consideration pitchers who might’ve been good at some point in their career prior to joining the Giants but were bad in the 1-2 seasons immediately preceding their time on the team:

2009 - Brandon Medders
2010 - Santiago Casilla
2011 - Ryan Vogelsong
2012 - George Kontos
2013 - Chad Gaudin
2014 - Hunter Strickland
2015 - Cory Gearrin
2016 - Will Smith
2017 - Sam Dyson
2018 - Dereck Rodriguez
2019 - Trevor Gott

I mean, don’t ask me how most of these guys did the year after their first with the Giants. That’s not the point! The team doesn’t have a flawless track record of finding gems at the dump — Mike Broadway, David Huff, Vin Mazzaro spring to mind — and relief pitchers are the most volatile performers year to year, but the results are a little bit more than just plain dumb luck. I’m sure glad the Giants seem to be able to read the Matrix and grab a useful spare part every year. That’s going to help in 2020 and beyond, when the bullpen will be Tyler Rogers and, uh, Shaun Anderson?

Role on the 2019 team

The quick and dirty pitcher analytics look at a pitcher focuses on Three True Outcomes: Walks, Strikeouts, and Home Runs. Gott has always been a hard thrower and has a minor league career K/9 of 9.2, but in 2017 and 2018, he combined for a TTO of 7.4 K/9, 5.3 BB/9, 2.0 HR/9 in a mere 22 IP. Not great stuff for a major league reliever. His stuff didn’t quite translate, and yet, he throws 95+ with an effective curveball.

You saw what Gott did in the season’s first couple of months, but the rest of his season wasn’t as great: 28.2 IP, 5.65 ERA, 32/11 K/BB, 3 HR, .252/.320/.355. Considering the injury issues and compared to the rest of the bullpen, Gott was one of the best, though, and his overall line in the Three True Outcomes — 9.7 K/9, 2.9 BB/9, 0.7 HR/9 — made him the 47th-most valuable reliever (out of 149) by FanGraphs’ Wins Above Replacement measure.

So, what did the Giants fix that the Nationals couldn’t?

They got him to stop throwing his sinker.

The launch angle revolution of the past couple of years has put a sinkerballer on the endangered species list. A swing geared for flyballs is going to give dip-designed pitches lift, and the way sinkers tend to roll around the strike zone means it’s a pitch that’s a lot more likely to find hitter’s happy zones. It has been a rough combination, and there’s unimpeachable evidence that This One Simple Fix transformed Trevor Gott from fringe reliever to a surprise arm.

If one were to make the argument that the Nationals’ bullpen woes are entirely self-inflicted, Trevor Gott would be a prime exhibit.

Role on the 2020 team

He looked primed to step up into Sam Dyson’s late-inning/setup man role before the elbow problems sunk his 2019, but if he returns fully healthy and is able to avoid Tommy John surgery (his season ended with a transfer to the 60-day IL with a right elbow strain) and the Giants opt to keep him on the roster (he’s out of options), then he could very well compete for a late setup spot.

That’s a lot of ifs, though, and as the above list suggests, the gems the Giants unearth don’t always hold their shine much beyond that first season.

Farhan-ness?

Please. Gott is a Four Farhan Guy, the highest possible Farhan Guy.

The Giants acquired a fringe reliever for cash considerations and used their new development coaching and protocols to transform him into a nearly 1-win relief pitcher who costs them nothing more than the major league minimum. That is the dream of every advanced front office.

Sure, there are stars with natural physical talents, but front offices want to be celebrated for being smart enough to see something nobody else did and having the skill set at their disposal to create the success they want to see.