The Giants bullpen is full of stalwarts like Romo
The 2010 World Series champion San Francisco Giants relied on a deep, talented bullpen to buttress a stellar starting rotation.
Strengthened by trade-deadline acquisitions Javier Lopez and Ramon Ramirez, the group was a major factor in the club's first world title in 53 seasons in San Francisco.
All seven of its stalwarts returned in 2011. While closer Brian Wilson is its lone All-Star representative, at least two others—Sergio Romo and Lopez—merited consideration.
A closer, comparative look at each member of the Giants bullpen reveals some interesting trends.
All seven were assessed on three unbiased statistics: WHIP (walks and hits allowed per inning); ERA; and strikeout/walk ratio. Intangibles also were considered.
Won/loss record, saves, and holds were excluded. These can be misleading (wins awarded to relief pitchers often result from surrendering leads) or inequitable (late-inning specialists and closers get virtually all hold and save opportunities).
One tidbit: Compared to 2010, four relievers—Brian Wilson, Santiago Casilla, Lopez and Ramirez—are having statistically poorer years. Sergio Romo and Guillermo Mota are performing at comparable levels.
Only Jeremy Affeldt is outpacing his 2011 numbers.
And another tidbit: My 2011 Giants bullpen "All-Star" isn't their bearded closer. Read on for the details.
A 2004 Oakland Athletics draftee, Casilla was exceptional for San Francisco in 2010, his first season in black and orange.
The Dominican native produced terrific numbers (7-2, 1.95 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 2.15 SO/BB ratio) and emerged as another late-inning option when Jeremy Affeldt faltered.
His 2011 numbers aren't bad, but key measures have deteriorated: 1.36 WHIP (fifth among Giant relievers), 1.20 K/BB (seventh). He missed the early season with elbow inflammation; he's struggled with command since his return.
Casilla illuminates the club's extraordinary bullpen depth. On many clubs, he'd easily be an eighth-inning set-up man. Here, he's just one of the guys.
Like Casilla, Ramon Ramirez is somewhat overlooked on a staff rich with talent. Unlike Casilla, he has largely maintained his 2010 form.
Acquired from Boston in midseason 2010, Ramirez was transformed after the trade. Mediocre as a Red Sox (0-3, 4.46 ERA, 1.29 WHIP), he posted ridiculous numbers as a Giant (34 appearances, 0.67 ERA, 0.89 WHIP).
Ramirez has been good in 2011; just not quite as good as his debut season in San Francisco. His 1.13 WHIP ranks him second among bullpen mates; his 2.42 K/BB ratio is third best.
Based on numbers alone, Ramirez would rank ahead of No. 5 Guillermo Mota. He ranks behind Mota because of the distinctly unique role the latter has played as a highly effective long reliever.
Side note: Ramirez could be attractive trade bait for Brian Sabean to use if the G.M. goes after a hitter as the trade deadline approaches.
Guillermo Mota turns 38 this month. He pitches like he's 28.
Considering his unremarkable career numbers (1.27 WHIP, 3.94 ERA, 39-44 W/L), you might wonder why so many teams have sought Mota's services. He has two highly desirable traits: he's a dependable workhorse (694 career appearances) and innings-eater who can save a bullpen from over-use.
That's why Mota rates ahead of Casilla and Ramirez, each of whom has arguably better stuff and is used more frequently in late-game situations.
Mota's 4.40 ERA and 1.32 WHIP rank at or near the bottom of the Giants bullpen staff, but his value well- exceeds those numbers.
His club-second-best K/BB ratio of 2.69 reflects his ability to throw strikes, a trait that has collectively escaped the Giants staff (which ranks 14th in the NL in walks allowed).
Personal confession: It's taken considerable time for me to embrace Mota, a two-time Dodger. But I'm over it.
Jeremy Affeldt, a 10-year major leaguer, is the only Giant reliever whose 2011 numbers (1.19 WHIP, 3.11 ERA, 2.36 K/BB ratio) have materially improved over 2010.
Few clubs have the luxury of two solid lefties in the bullpen, and Affeldt has been overshadowed (and perhaps under-appreciated) since the midseason 2010 arrival of Javier Lopez.
The 32-year old Affeldt posted impressive numbers (1.73 ERA, 74 appearances) in 2009 before slipping a year ago. His slide was partly responsible for Sabean's decision to acquire Javier Lopez prior to the 2010 trade deadline.
His improved statistics aside, Affeldt's stature has also grown in the wake of the tragic parking lot assault on Giant fan Bryan Stow on Opening Day at Dodger Stadium.
Serving as a club spokesperson, Affeldt's maturity and healing words were credited for calming fan tensions and helping prevent retributive acts.
Javier Lopez is another Giant reliever whose performance in San Francisco has far exceeded his career numbers.
A relatively obscure left-handed specialist since his 2003 major league debut in Colorado, Lopez may have been Brian Sabean's most important midseason acquisition during San Francisco's 2010 title season.
After posting absurdly good numbers in 2010 (0.68 WHIP, 1.42 ERA, 8.0 K/BB ratio), Lopez is delivering slightly less impressive results this year: 1.18 WHIP, 2.30 ERA, 1.35 K/BB ratio.
We're not really seeing a decline from Lopez; just a return to Earth.
His ability to deal with dangerous left-handed hitters in late-inning situations positions Lopez among the Giants (and the NL's) most valuable relief specialists.
With his one-year deal expiring at season's end, the Giants would be wise to try to extend him before he becomes a free agent.
Considering that San Francisco Giants closer Brian Wilson is an NL All-Star and the league leader in saves at the season's midpoint, how could he possibly be ranked behind Sergio Romo?
1) Wilson's relevant 2011 numbers—recall that this ranking excludes saves—all lag his 2010 stats. In fact, his 1.39 WHIP is worst among all Giant relievers and materially worse than last year's 1.17 WHIP (we might call this the "torture index").
2) His gaudy save figure somewhat obscures the fact that he often lives on the edge of disaster. His six wins at the 2011 halfway point already exceed his previous high of five in 2009. And some of those wins came at the expense of a starter who left a game with the lead.
3) Romo's numbers as a set-up man (the second-most difficult job in a bullpen) are preposterously good.
Let me be clear: Brian Wilson might wind up as the Giants MVP—especially if he continues to refine the rough edges that marred his early-season work. But, for now, he ranks behind Romo.
Numbers (and intangibles) don't lie: Sergio Romo is the San Francisco Giants' most valuable relief specialist to this point in 2011.
His statistics are truly stunning: 0.86 WHIP, 2.36 ERA, and an other-worldly 9.5 K/BB ratio. Let me repeat: Romo has more than nine strikeouts for every base on balls. On a staff that otherwise walks too many batters, that is staggering.
Also staggering is Romo's consistency. After a few early-season hiccups, Romo is back to his 2010 form (0.96 WHIP, 2.18 ERA, 5.0 K/BB ratio).
He is preposterously tough against right-handed hitters and has sufficient command and variety of pitches to be a closer. But for Wilson, that would be Romo's role.
Consider this: the Giants are paying Romo $450K this season. He is arbitration-eligible in 2012. If he continues to excel, Romo is going to cash in, soon enough. For now, he's easily the best-value pitcher on any staff in major league baseball.
And, for the Giants, he's the midseason bullpen MVP.