Just one year ago, the San Francisco Giants bullpen was one of the best in the biz. Bullpens, however, are a fickle species. Just ask anyone who has tried to chase saves in a fantasy baseball league.
I started the season by drafting Brian Wilson and Mariano Rivera. Ouch. The top five bullpens in MLB in 2012 finished last season ranked 11th, 16th, 18th, 20th and 26th. More than half of the league has turned over its closing duties at least once.
Back to the Giants. Gone are Brian Wilson, Ramon Ramirez and Guillermo Mota of seasons past. The Giants currently rank 15th in bullpen ERA, a sharp drop-off from the last three seasons, where they finished second in MLB every season.
Other than Tim Lincecum's mind warp, the closer situation has been Bruce Bochy's biggest headache. All-Star closer Brian Wilson went out early for Tommy John surgery. Santiago Casilla filled in admirably for a few months until burning out in recent weeks. Sergio Romo continues to be treated like fine china, saved only for special occasions. What should the Giants do to shore up the position?
Stick It out with Casilla
Though relatively unknown and beardless, Santiago Casilla has pitched very effectively for the Giants since the start of 2010. He throws hard with sharp movement and strikes out a batter an inning.
So what's the problem? Well, until three weeks ago, nothing. Casilla has blown four of his last seven save chances, and some of them were complete meltdowns. Hitters are putting good contact on Casilla's fast ball, and the ninth inning has reverted to the torturous days of Brian Wilson.
If the Giants do not make a trade, it looks like Casilla will continue to have a long leash. Even with all the blowups, Bochy threw him out there in the ninth each of the last two days. The worst Casilla can do at this point is become the top man in some sort of closer-by-committee concoction that Bochy dreams up.
Despite the boos that rained down Sunday afternoon when Casilla was brought in to slam the door on the Astros, Casilla's hot start to the season probably warrants a few more looks.
What Should the Giants do about the Closer Role?
The golden boy of the bullpen the last few seasons, Romo continues to be one of the best setup men in baseball. That's what we assume, however. Despite owning a paltry 0.67 ERA, Romo has only seen 27 innings of action this season. That's good for fourth in the Giants bullpen.
It's clear at this point that Bochy sees Romo as a sort of right-handed specialist, if such a thing exists. This despite the fact that lefties only hit .150 against Romo this season and .219 in 2011.
If Bochy had any plans to hand the closer job to Romo, he could have done it when Brian Wilson went down last season. He could have done it when Brian Wilson went down this season. He could have done it when Casilla turned into Armando Benitez a few weeks ago. Clearly the skipper will continue to tread delicately with Romo.
Every year, there are a plethora of bullpen arms waiting to be snapped up. It's impossible to know who might be available since relievers often don't top the rumor headlines. Would an arm such as Jonathan Broxton, Grant Balfour or Matt Capps be better than what the team currently has?
You never know when a Javier Lopez might fall into your lap and lead you to a World Series. In any event, the bullpen will continue to be a hot topic in San Francisco from now until the deadline. I guess things could be worse.