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Batters haven’t barreled a Will Smith pitch yet, and other notes about the bullpen

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The Giants bullpen has had some notable blowups lately, but they’re still the best around.

Los Angeles Dodgers v San Francisco Giants Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Will Smith opened and closed the ninth inning of the Giants’ 3-2 win over the Dodgers last night with strikeouts. In between was a 67.9 mph soft single to left field by Austin Barnes and a flyout to right by Russell Martin. Neither represented what MLB’s Statcast would deem a “barreled” ball:

The Barrel classification is assigned to batted-ball events whose comparable hit types (in terms of exit velocity and launch angle) have led to a minimum .500 batting average and 1.500 slugging percentage since Statcast was implemented Major League wide in 2015.

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For example: A ball traveling 99 mph always earns ‘Barreled’ status when struck between 25-31 degrees. Add one more mph -- to reach 100 -- and the range grows another three degrees, to 24-33.

I’ve written about this before, but just in case you had forgotten, there’s your reminder as I lead you into this next bit of good news. Will Smith has yet to allow barreled contact this year. Statcast has Smith down for 25 BBEs (Batted Ball Events) and batters are 0-for-25 in barrels. He’s one of only 16 pitchers who’ve almost made it through the first month of the season without any hard contact.

Remarkably, and somewhat frighteningly, there are starters on this list — among them, the BravesSean Newcomb and Mike Soroka, the PhilliesJerad Eickhoff — but I want to focus on the relievers. The Giants’ relievers in this case.

Smith’s zero balls barreled is fantastic, but Statcast also measures pure raw exit velocity and categorizes batted balls with an exit velocity of 95 mph or greater as “Hard Hit”. By that measure, 11 of Smith’s 25 BBEs (44%) is less impressive. On the other hand, there’s Reyes Moronta checking in with just 9 hard hits in 26 BBEs (34.6%).

Depending on how you want to look at it, Sam Dyson has been right up there with both of them. By virtue of being a groundball pitcher, he has more batted ball events, so the 13 hard hits he’s allowed is grater than either Smith or Moronta, but a lower rate (28.3%). The average exit velocity off a Sam Dyson pitch through the first month of the season is a top-25 83.6 mph. Though, maybe frustratingly, the average exit velocity on groundballs induced by Sam Dyson is 80.8 mph, good enough for just 60th place in MLB. There are a lot of eligible pitchers for this list, sure, but Mike Dunn leads MLB with 69.8 mph and Yusmeiro Petit’s next at 70.7 mph.

{kicking a metaphorical rock} Derek Holland’s groundballs come off at the bat at 76.1 mph. Tony Watson checks in at 79.3 mph, which I guess is pretty okay, too. Oh well. It is good to get groundballs.

Given the small sample sizes involved here (it’s only April) the percentages don’t mean too much, but overall, when it comes to “underlying metrics” or advanced measures, the Giants’ best relievers are above average.

And it still gives us a few other small sample size gems, like:

  • the greatest distance a Will Smith pitch has traveled after contact is 340 feet, which is the third-best figure in MLB.
  • Sam Dyson has the fourth-best average launch angle against at -3.8 degrees. He’s getting a lot of groundballs.
  • The average distance a battle ball off of Sam Dyson travels just 110 feet, the 7th-best figure in MLB.
  • Mark Melancon is right behind Dyson. Batters are averaging just 120 feet on contact against his pitches.
  • Melancon’s +2.5 average launch angle is 21st in MLB. He’s getting a lot of groundballs.

Collectively, the bullpen has been great from a traditionalists’ standpoint, too:

FanGraphs’ ERA- (the pitching version of OPS+ or wRC+) helps tell us how a pitcher or pitching staff is doing relative to the league average. When you’re dealing with a stat-minus under 100 (the league average) is better, the reverse of a stat-plus. By the ERA- measure, the Giants’ bullpen is the best in baseball with a 69 ERA- or 31% better than league average.

Last year at this point in time, the bullpen was a solid 95 (and would end the year at 97), or just 5% better than the league average (3%), good for 14th in MLB. The Diamondbacks , Blue Jays, Brewers, Cubs, and Astros all ended April 2018 with better ERA-minuses than the Giants will likely end their April 2019 with and only the Astros and Cubs were in the top five by season’s end (although, the Brewers were sixth), so, it’s not a slam dunk that the bullpen can maintain its collective success over the full season.

That would be complicated anyway with possible trades down the line. There are plenty of would-be contenders who could use bullpen help — the Nationals, Mets, and Dodgers are three of the five worst bullpens (by ERA-) currently working — and the Giants will be looking to upgrade their org depth by any means necessary.

There will be fun in that, but at the same time, with so few positive aspects of this team to watch on any given night, disassembling this bunch to setup a team that will hopefully be good 2-4 years from now will be bittersweet.