As we approach the start of the baseball season, just 7 days till pitchers and catchers report, I wanted to break down the state of the Giants in a three part series. Each part will focus on different components of the 2007 Giants. These parts are the Bullpen, Starting Rotation, and Position Players. Think of this as a pre-season report card of how the Giants fare in each respective category.
In 2006 the Giants found themselves in all too familiar surroundings. The bullpen, that was once a strength of the Giants in years past, experienced another lackluster year often marred with frustrating performances from key members. Armando Benitez struggled most of the year to find consistency. Scott Munter’s sinker no longer sank and was promptly smacked around the ball park with ease. Tim Worrell started strong but eventually gave in to injuries and ineffectiveness. There were some bright spots for the Giants in 2006 but they were few in number. Kevin Correia’s maturing in the bullpen was a pleasant surprise, as was Brad Hennessey’s decent showing as a long man. Kline was steady if not somewhat unspectacular.
Lets take a look at how the Giants bullpen performed in past years. If it’s one thing that we know its that pitchers by nature are often the ones who fluctuate the most between seasons. This theory applies even more strongly to bullpen pitchers, who by nature are often the ones moved to the bullpen because they didn’t have the skills to be starters. So, a teams awful performance one year in the bullpen can often improve greatly by the next year. As apparent by the Giants going from 10th to 2nd in years 2001-2002 in the NL, so there remains hope for the Giants bullpen in the up and coming year.
Giants NL Bullpen Rank Based on ERA
2000 – 4th (4.07 ERA)
2001 – 10th (4.06 ERA)
2002 – 2nd (2.89 ERA)
2003 – 3rd (3.49 ERA)
2004 – 13th (4.68 ERA)
2005 – 7th (4.03 ERA)
2006 – 15th (4.77 ERA)
The Giants had a excellent bullpen in years 2000 and 2002-03. The bullpen was mediocre in 2001 and 2005 and was just plain bad in 2004 and 2006. It comes as no surprise that in years when the Giants had a excellent bullpen (2000,2002-03) they made it to the playoffs and in years where the pen was mediocre-to-bad (2001,2004-06) they did not.
The bullpen remains the most uncertain aspect about the Giants. The Giants finished 15th in 2006, only behind the Brewers as the worst pen in the NL. Is there hope for the pen? Or are we in for another year of general ineffectiveness? The bullpen is going to depend on the continued growth and development of talented younger pitchers (Wilson, Sadler, Taschner, and maybe Sanchez) and veterans providing solid relief (Benitez, Chulk, Kline). Lets review those who will make up the bullpen this year.
Armando Benitez – Benitez will be a huge factor in the bullpen by either his performance, good or bad, or getting dealt to a team in return for prospects that could potentially slide into the bullpen. What can be said about Mando that hasn’t already been said? Malcontent, under-performer, and headcase have all been used to describe Mando during his rocky tenure with the Giants. Constant injuries and arthritic knees have slowed Benitez considerably since he joined the Giants and he is no safe bet for a rebirth in ’07. The Giants need Armando to stay healthy and hope that the “contract year factor” comes into play. If Benitez wants to land a nice paycheck for the following seasons he knows he’ll have to perform better in ’07. I can’t expect more than 40-50 innings of somewhat quality relief.
Brian Wilson – Everyone’s favorite to move into the closer’s role if Benitez gets moved. Wilson has the generic “closers stuff” tag which usually translates to “he throws hard”. Wilson has a big fastball but also features a nice slider that was labeled as the best slider in the Giants system in 2005. If Wilson can improve his control he could be a solid reliever in the bullpen. One of my candidates for a breakout season in 2007.
Billy Sadler – Salder is my official dark horse candidate for the bullpen. Throws hard and features a nice curve. Salder had a fine AFL showing striking out 22 in just 14 innings with a 1.29 ERA. He should have a real shot to make the bullpen out of spring training and I like his chances to be a solid bullpen contributer in 2007. Like Wilson, Sadler is young and his control will most likely be spotty now and then but with patience he could turn into something nice.
Brad Hennessey – Starter turned long man, Hennessey had a decent year in 2006. His peripherals scare me but he should serve just fine as a long man/spot starter.
Kevin Correia – One of the few bright spots for the Giants bullpen in 2006. Kevin will be back in his role and could potentially see some save chances if Benitez is moved and someone like Wilson struggles.
Steve Kline – Kline posted a 3.66 ERA in ’06 and was rewarded with a 2 year contract for his efforts. Kline should continue to post good to average numbers in the bullpen all while wearing that gross dirty hat.
Vinnie Chulk – Acquired in the Accardo-for-Hillenbrand trade, Chulk started strong but ended up posting a 5+ ERA in only 22.3 innings. File him under another “stuff looks good but why doesn’t he have better results?” Chulk looks to be firmly planted in the middle relief role. He won’t be amazing and hopefully he won’t totally suck either. I think the most that Vinnie has working for him is a cool name.
Sanchortiz – Whoever loses the 5th spot, be it Ortiz or Sanchez, will get moved into the pen. I know the idea of Ortiz relieving is not exactly a pleasant one but he was a closer in the minors. Cue irrational February hope…now. I think if Ortiz makes the team it’ll be as a starter. He could get cut if hes doesn’t win the 5th starter job but he could also hang in the pen for a short time. Sanchez on the other hand is someone I would like to see in the pen. He could continue to work on his secondary stuff against major league hitters. He flourished in the relief role in 2006 looking very strong.
Maybe In the Pen
Jack Taschner – Will the real Jack Taschner please stand up? Jack has performed well in the minors but outside of a major league stint in 2005 he has struggled in the majors. In 2006 Jack had a staggering H/9 of 14.43 which is every bit as ugly as it sounds. Taschner never looked comfortable in ’06 but he does have the quality pitches to become a effective reliever. The fact that hes left handed also helps his cause some too. I think Taschner’s chances of landing a pen job depends on whether or not Sanchez wins the 5th starter job.
Patrick Misch – Misch, who features a plus change but little in the way of a fastball, could find himself in the bullpen if he has a strong spring. Even though he is filed in the ‘maybe’ category he could really go either way and end back in AAA for more regular work as a starter. I like Misch’s stuff despite the lack of a fastball and think he could potentially be a nice long man type in the bullpen.
Not Till Much Later if Ever
David Cortes – Picked up from the Rockies and should be looked at as AAA filler. Even though Cortes posted a sub-5 ERA in Coors in a small sample size his actual numbers are pretty ugly. He’ll be stashed away in Fresno and shouldn’t see any time in the bigs unless someone gets injured.
Erik Threets – Threets once possessed a big time 100mph fastball but has lost some velocity. His control is still horrible and don’t let his 2006 numbers in Fresno fool you. The ERA of 2.87 looks very nice but a glance at his BB/9 might give you a mini-stroke. If he could ever figure out his control he might be useful but until then keep dreaming.
Scott Munter – Oh, how far you’ve fallen Scott. In 2005 he pitched somewhat effectively for the Giants utilizing a heavy sinker that he let opponents pound into the ground. 2006 was another story. Munter seemed to lose all control of the sinker and it wasn’t sinking as much as it had before. He was hammered in the majors and didn’t fair any better in AA. I think we may have seen the last of Scott Munter in the bigs.
Tyler Walker – No, it’s not a misprint, the Giants resigned Tyler Walker to a minor league deal after the Devil Rays released him. Walker who saved 23 games for the Giants in ’05 returns to the club that first gave him a shot as a closer. Walker is recovering from Tommy John surgery and his timetable won’t place him back until mid season at the earliest. He can’t be counted on for anything at this point.
In a nutshell, thats what the bullpen should look like coming into spring training. Now that I’ve written it down and actually looked at it I had forgotten how much youth would be in the pen. Guys like Wilson, Sadler, Sanchez, Misch, Correia, and Hennessey are all young and have the chance to improve as they mature. Youth also has the chance to be bumpy and full of explosions, blowups, and mistakes but thats all part of the learning process. If the Giants can get key performances from certain players and the youth can continue to mature and develop there is no reason to think that the bullpen won’t be better in 2007. After ranking 15th in the NL there aren’t many other places to go but up.
Thats the joy of the offseason. I can be irrationally positive. Talk to me again in mid June after Steve Kline has given up his second consecutive dinger to blow the game and I’m frothing at the mouth. Still, the Giants with some luck and development should improve in the new year.