Some not-so-great news from Andy Baggarly:
Brian Wilson’s ability to pitch on Opening Day is in significant doubt after the Giants’ right-handed closer had his throwing session cut short Wednesday – his first time picking up a baseball since straining his left oblique six days earlier.
I think it’s now safe to say, only after the shortened throwing session, that the Giants might have to head to San Francisco without their dominant closer on the 25-man roster. This might seem like horrendous news for many Giants fans, particularly given the larger-than-life persona Wilson projects and that Giants fans (and only Giants fans) adore. But so long as this strain doesn’t stretch into a prolonged absence, I don’t think it should have much of an impact, if any, on the Giants’ winning or losing ballgames.
Look, the Giants have a pretty good group of stable relievers. With that luxury, they should be able to easily patch the last two or three innings together for a month or so. They’ve got Sergio Romo, Santiago Casilla, Javier Lopez, Jeremy Affeldt and Ramon Ramirez. The last two spots would have gone to Wilson and one of Guillermo Mota, Ryan Vogelsong, Jeff Suppan (not really) or Dan Runzler. Runzler was probably headed to Triple-A as it were given his minor league option. And Suppan, well, he was probably headed home. Vogelsong has apparently impressed Bochy, so he was giving Mota a run for his money. Now, both seem safe for now. I won’t suggest for how long Vogelsong or Mota will stay at the major-league level, but something tells me this might afford each of them another couple of weeks in the big leagues, at least. What’s more, it’ll give them a few more innings to figure out whether Vogelsong or Mota is more valuable going forward.
Without Wilson, you have to soften your middle relief in order to cover the ninth. But the reason I believe the Giants will be alright despite this is their starting pitching. If you’re the Royals’ manager, and your Opening Day starter is Luke Hochevar, your middle relief is going to be used. A lot. But the Giants have a bunch of really good starters, and so that’s not really the case for them.
Their top two in Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain are not only studs, but they are virtual locks to toss 200 innings if healthy. They don’t tend to get knocked out of games early. Madison Bumgarner is a young pitcher, but his style of pitching is of the pedigree of pitching deep into games: throwing a lot of strikes and not walking many batters. Jonathan Sanchez is talented; he’s also hit and miss. More often than not, though, he’s going to get you into the fifth or sixth. And when Barry Zito is your fifth starter, that’s a good thing – which is not at all to say it’s a good thing to pay him half a million per start.
The five abovementioned hurlers – two righty and three lefty – don’t collectively look the type to chew up a bullpen. That’s worth noting, I think.
But to the purpose of this post: who should close? For me, it’s kind of an easy one to answer. I say Sergio Romo. Over the past three seasons, he’s thrown 130 innings with a 2.63 ERA and 162 ERA+, leading us to believe he’s been over 60 percent more valuable than your average arm. And these aren’t hollow, lucky numbers considering his WHIP is .962, he’s struck out 10 batters per nine innings and he’s walked just 2.3 per nine for a ratio or 4.36. He’s been excellent. He’s been, without question, far better than any of the other Giants’ relievers – in the non-Wilson category.
But if you’re willing to dig deeper, like I am, you might see some flaws. For one, he had a bit of a hiccup in 2009 when he had some arm soreness. Durability-wise, he doesn’t exactly strike me as a guy you’d want to overuse. The other reason is his splits. He’s been unbelievable against right-handed hitters, but just so-so versus left-handed hitters, at least comparably. He’s whiffed just 7.7 per nine when facing lefties and walked 3.0. And while his FIP (fielding-independent pitching) is actually better versus left-handed hitters (2.72 versus 2.89), this is a perfect example why you never, ever (ever) want to look at a single statistic to draw a conclusion. He’s given up only one home run in 48 innings (0.19 per nine) against left-handed hitters and yielded an almost certainly unsustainable .228 average on balls in play (BABiP).
This information is almost shocking to me, but in a sample of just 48 innings it shouldn’t be. Strange stuff happens in baseball. What’s more, this is why relievers are volatile. One year they’re Mariano Rivera, and the next they’re chopped liver. So while Romo does deserve every ounce of respect for his work overall, I suspect we’ll see a bit of a correction in his numbers, especially if he’s exposed to more lefties.
Which is exactly why I’d just platoon Romo with a capable left-handed reliever, at least capable of getting your Joey Votto’s and Chase Utley’s out. Affeldt’s numbers are frankly worse versus like-handed batters, so I won’t even bother providing them. I know that because I’ve looked them up before. I’ve looked them up before because I sort of thought Runzler was a better option in the bullpen during the playoffs, and looked to qualify that thought. After that brilliant NCLS Game Six, so much for that. But I digress.
But the great thing about Lopez is… crap. Upon further review, his stats versus like-handed hitters aren’t great either. They’re worse than Romo’s – 7.37 strikeouts per nine and about 4.0 walks per nine. That’s pretty unremarkable for a lefty specialist, or a LOOGY as we nerds affectionately call them. Which, naturally (or perhaps not), brings me to my next conclusion: Who the hell was that getting Jason Heyward, Ryan Howard, Utley and Josh Hamilton out all postseason long? I guess that was a question.
2010 was magical. Wow. The Giants have more than enough left-handed pitchers. Unfortunately, not even one of them really has a track record of chewing up left-handed hitters and spitting them out, despite what transpired in October of last year and what your brain would want you to believe.
Bochy loves defined roles and it almost seems impossible he’d go with a platoon anyway, so it’s probably just as well. Maybe he’ll surprise me, but I doubt it. He certainly understands the value in matchups; he rode Lopez’s (miraculous) lefty-razing ways all the way to a World Series. But if he does go with one-true closer, I don’t feel comfortable he’ll make what should be the obvious choice.
But anyway, here’s my new post title: Romo is Wilson’s (obvious) best replacement… or something. Or, we could just say it sucks that Wilson’s out and has to making everything so complicated. He might even do that just for fun, because what seems to amuse him is unique among humans.
In the most round-about way, I think we have our answer. If, in that giant head of his, Bochy does come to the conclusion that Romo is his man, he’ll be a fine choice. Also, the Giants will be fine
The new captain at the SweetSpot, David Schoenfield, took a swing at this topic as well. His conclusion was similar.