I'm not bashing Brandon Medders and his performance in 2009 by any means. I thought he was a surprising reliever in 2009. He had a great May where he posted a FIP of 2.85, and a solid September/October where he had a FIP of 3.16, and proved to be an integral part of the Giants' success last year.
What made Medders such a great signing was that he happened to be an unknown, bargain-bin acquisition (he signed a Minor League contract prior to Spring Training last season), and provided great bang for the buck as a middle-to-late innings reliever (his WAR converted to dollars in 2009 was $1.4 million; his contract last year was $475,000).
He wasn't Jeremy Affeldt or Brian Wilson, but he certainly wasn't Bob Howry or Merkin Valdez either.
Yet, after three games into the 2010 season, it is terribly obvious: the Giants do not need Medders in their bullpen.
Like I said before, that is not to downgrade Medders as a pitcher. He may still be a slightly above-average right-handed reliever that would be useful on any Major League team, especially one that may be lacking in effective bullpen arms.
The Giants, though, do not have that problem.
Already as we have seen in the Houston sweep, the Giants have gotten great contributions from their bullpen.
Waldis Joaquin and Dan Runzler showed that they are promising young arms with incredible stuff.
Sergio Romo proved that he's the Giants' right-handed eighth-inning specialist, and Jeremy Affeldt illustrated in today's win why he's Romo's left-handed counterpart.
And as for Brian Wilson? Two saves in two opportunities, two strikeouts, no walks. I think those numbers show why he has his spot in this bullpen.
Medders, though? He hasn't exactly impressed, as evidenced by his three hits, two runs allowed in one-third of an inning performance in the season-opener.
Granted it's only one game, and I'm not saying the Giants should release Medders based on that outing alone. However, when it comes to defining what Medders's role is in the bullpen, well...that becomes tricky.
Wilson is the closer (obviously). Romo and Affeldt are the right-handed and left-handed setup men, respectively. Runzler and Joaquin are the young, left-handed and right-handed stoppers (come in when behind before the eighth to stop damage) or seventh-inning setup relievers. Guillermo Mota, at this point, seems to be the mop-up man (guy to clean things up when the leads are big).
The only role Medders could possibly fill in this Giants bullpen would be as a "Justin Miller-esque" long reliever.
Considering Medders has never started a game at the Major League level and has only thrown 50 or more innings twice (2006 with Arizona and last season) in his Major League career, I don't think that role bodes well for him.
When you add in the fact that the Giants have two younger, cheaper options available to fill that role waiting in Fresno (Joe Martinez and Kevin Pucetas), Medders seems even less likely to be a fit as the Giants long middle reliever as the season progresses.
Now, I understand many Giants fans will be inclined to believe that Medders can bounce back from his first bad outing on Opening Day. However, while he undoubtedly will bounce back in some form, to think that Medders will duplicate his 2009 numbers in 2010 might be a stretch.
Medders's high FIP (4.07) and lackluster K/BB ratio (1.81) and WHIP (1.38) prove that his 2009 wasn't as good as his 3.01 ERA or 5-1 record indicates. Medders is a flyball pitcher (0.88 GB/FB ratio last season) who doesn't strike a tremendous amount of guys out (7.60 K/9 in 2009; good for a starter, mediocre for a flyball reliever).
Those are not good qualities to have, and though Medders got away with it for the most part last year (thanks mostly to AT&T Park's spacious environment), sooner or later the BABIP will rise and the fly balls that were long outs will turn into home runs.
I can say it's safe to say that no Giants fan wants to see that happen, especially when it will affect the win-loss column.
Considering Medders's age (he's 30 years old) and contract (he signed a one-year, $820,000 extension this offseason ), he just doesn't seem to be an efficient arm to have in the Giants' bullpen. There are so many quality young arms, not just in the Giants' bullpen, but in Fresno as well, in addition to Pucetas and Martinez.
Henry Sosa and Alex Hinshaw had great Spring Trainings, and Hinshaw actually had a very successful stint in 2008 (If Hinshaw can ever solve his walk problems, he'll be dangerous because he posts very high strikeout numbers).
They are currently with the Grizzlies, but don't expect them to be there for long. They're chomping at the bit to get a shot in the Majors.
Steve Edlefsen is a 24-year-old right-hander with the Grizzlies who made a meteoric "Dan Runzler-esque" rise from High Single-A San Jose to Triple-A Fresno last year.
His combined numbers? In 69.2 IP, he earned eight wins, allowed only 43 hits, posted an ERA of 1.95 and sported a K/9 rate of 9.3 (he did have a BB/9 of 4.8 and 1.95 K/BB ratio, not exactly impressive, but considering his rise, the high walk numbers are to be expected).
With a little tuning in the Pacific Coast League, it isn't far-fetched to think that Edlefsen could be contributing to the Giants in a couple of months.
As you can see, the options in Fresno and on this Giants roster are plentiful, and I'm not even counting castoffs such as Denny Bautista or Horacio Ramirez (who are in Fresno as well), who could break out after being ignored by other teams this offseason (similar to Medders' situation in 2009).
I'm still willing to give Medders a chance for a short period of time. He deserves one after the contract extension Brian Sabean signed him to this offseason and his performance last year.
However, I wouldn't be surprised to see Medders fail to live up to the bar this bullpen and its relievers have set this season so far.
His performance last year in high leverage situations (xFIP of 5.17; 1.29 K/BB ratio; 0.19 GB/FB ratio in high leverage situations last year) and questionable stuff (he had negative runs above average values on three of his five pitches last year) don't project well for repeated success.
The Giants' bullpen may be the key to their playoff hopes in 2010, and could be their second-strongest asset as a team, slightly behind the starting pitching (and considering they had two NL All-Star starting pitchers last year, that is saying something). While that is a great thing for the Giants and their fans, it's unfortunate for Medders.
Because, as of now, he's the odd man out.