The bullpen was a major reason why the Giants were able to play better than .500 baseball this past season. When your team collectively fails at the plate, every little bit of run prevention, be it defense or pitching, can be a huge difference between wins and loses. Fortunately for the Giants, their bullpen did an outstanding job of preventing runs. The combined bullpen FIP for Giants relievers of 3.86 was ranked as the 5th best bullpen in baseball by year-end. The ‘pen received an amazingly strong performance from Brian Wilson (2.50 FIP) who looked every bit the part of dominating, shut-down closer. Sergio Romo (2.13), Jeremy Affeldt (3.59), and Bob Howry (3.85) also combined for some above-average-to-solid performances.
Brandon Medders’ ERA of 3.01 was a little more than a full-run better than his FIP, but he gave the Giants a solid back-end performance nonetheless. Justin Miller also defied his FIP by posting an ERA of 3.18 when his FIP was closer to 5 runs. Chances are that Medders could be back, I wouldn’t prefer it but I’m not sure the Giants will let him walk away after throwing a 3.01 ERA season. Non-elite relievers like Medders tend to have a good bit of wiggle room in their individual performances from season to season. With Howry’s 1-year deal coming to a close and Miller most likely not coming back — the Giants should have a couple of bullpen vacancies for the 2010 squad.
Waldis Joaquin and Dan Runzler are two young relievers who should be in the running to fill those open spots. Both Joaquin and Runzler made their debuts for the Giants this season and, at times, looked promising. Over the past few years the Giants have had a pretty good track record of developing young bullpen arms — Brian Wilson and Sergio most noted. Will Joaquin and Runzler be the next farm-developed relievers to join the major league bullpen? Let’s take a look at each pitcher’s debut season with PFX to see if we can learn something more about each player.
It’s All About The Heat
To start things off let’s check out Waldis Joaquin. The 22-year-old right-hander pitched across two levels for the Giants (not including the majors) in 2009. Joaquin pitched in AA and AAA with some mixed results. Overall, across both levels of AA/AAA, Joaquin posted a K/9 of 7.9 to pair with a BB/9 of 4.2. The scouting reports on Joaquin spoke of tremendous velocity and a developing slider with good potential.
Let’s take a look at his time in the majors in 2009.
Now that’s some heat. Waldis’ average fastball was clocked at just a hair under 96 mph. His fastest fastball was clocked at 99 mph by PFX and he had several that were in the range of 98 mph. It’s clear that Joaquin has some top-notch velocity. By pitch usage, it’s the pitch he threw 75% of the time. We’re dealing with a pretty small sample size of just 10.2 innings pitched but Joaquin had some problems throwing strikes, posting a 5.91 BB/9.
This is the basic horizontal movement vs. vertical movement PFX plot. Just by eye-balling things, Waldis is getting some good horizontal run on his fastball into right-handed batters. PFX pitch classifications are pretty worthless for new pitchers like Joaquin, but I’d wager that a good portion of his fastballs are 2-seamers by the horizontal movement on them. His career GB% rates in the minors would also seem to indicate that he’s throwing a 2-seamer. He owns a career GB% of around 50% in his minor league career and in the majors last season he posted GB% of 62.1. Right-handed batters put 13 of Waldis’ fastballs into play, 6 of the 13 were groundouts. If Joaquin can keep right-handed batters pounding his 2-seamer into the ground, it should be a solid pitch for him. A 95 mph+ 2-seam fastball just doesn’t sound fair, does it?
Let’s check out Runzler’s numbers.
And his movement plot:
Runzler shot through the minors in 2009. He started in A-ball with the Augusta Greenjackets and ended up in the majors by the end of the year. From our data table above, we can see that Runzler profiles as a hard-throwing left-hander that works with off a fastball/slider combo. 73% of Runzler’s pitches were fastballs that were clocked at 94 mph. During his minor league career, Runzler was a machine at getting groundballs. In 140 career minor league innings, Runzler had a GB% of 62.8. Don’t make the mistake of thinking he’s just a ground-baller, Ruznler owns a career K/9 of 11.20 in the minors. His combination of fastball/slider has been tough to make contact against and when batters have made contact against it they have tended to hit the ball on the ground. If there is a chink in Runzler’s armor, it’s his control. His career BB/9 of 4.67 in minor league play suggests that he’s prone to going outside of the zone.
This is the location of all of Runzler’s fastballs and sliders. Pitchers that pitch up in the zone tend to rack up strikeouts and when Runzler misses with the fastball, it’s mostly been up and away from right-handed batters. Eye-balling this graph, it looks like he did a pretty good job of putting his slider in the zone or below it.
Like a lot of relievers both Joaquin and Runzler profile as fastball-first pitchers. Of course it takes more than just a fastball to succeed out of the bullpen (see: Valdez, Merkin) but they’ve both got a good foundation to work off of. Particularly they’ve both shown some groundball tendencies in their development paths which bodes well. They’ve both had control issues in the minors and if I had to pick just one, I’d take Runzler for now. He’s shown solid GB rates and much better K rates when compared to Joaquin. I’m not sure what the Giants plans are for Merkin Valdez, but surely Waldis Joaquin has a better chance of turning in a better season than Valdez. Valdez will be 28-years-old next season, was rarely used in back-to-back days, and has a significant injury history.
Ideally, the bullpen should shape up for next season as:
CL Brian Wilson
SU Jeremy Affeldt
SU Sergio Romo
MRP Dan Runzler
MRP Waldis Joaquin
MRP Brandon Medders
LRP Joe Martinez
At first sight, not bad. I’m not huge on Medders, but I’m sure he’ll be back. Barring any free agent reliever signings, there’s a good chance that both Runzler and Joaquin could start next year in the Giants’ bullpen. If they make it to the bullpen, the Giants could have one of the harder throwing bullpens in baseball.