Giants Report Part 4: The Bullpen

Giants Report Part 4: The Bullpen

The final installation of our San Francisco Giants season review contains material that may not be suitable for sensitive Giants fans. Behold: the bullpen.

In part 3 of our 4 part review of the San Francisco Giants 2007 season, we noted how the team's starting pitching was not to blame for the club's dismal 71-91 record.  Where the Giants did struggle this season – aside from an overall lack of hitting - was in the bullpen.  The Giants relievers were inconsistent and often fallible with their 33 losses leading the NL (3rd most in MLB).  They also racked up 23 blown saves (9th most) and recorded a 62% save ratio (7th worst) while allowing over a third of all inherited runners to score (38%).  The pen's 4.10 ERA ranked them in the bottom half of baseball (18th) as did their cumulative 1.41 WHIP (19th) and .265 BAA (23rd).  For the year, the Giants played in a league-high 94 games decided by 1 or 2 runs and won just 39 of them (.414).  While September may have uncovered the Giants' future closer, the pen as a whole simply disintegrated as the team limped to the finish line in the final month, posting a 5.56 ERA, 1.64 WHIP and .306 BAA with 7 losses and a league-high 8 blown saves while allowing almost half (44%) of all inherited runners to cross home plate.

Manager Bruce Bochy tried three different pitchers in the closer role (Armando Benitez, Brad Hennessey and Brian Wilson).  Certainly, the Giants will need to upgrade their anemic offense, as acknowledged by GM Brian Sabean in a recent web chat where he told Giants fans, "we will need to address the need for a middle-of-the-order presence," but nevertheless he told reporters that the club would try to add at least one proven reliever to the bullpen, as well as citing the need for another left hander.   

Left Handers – Steve Kline, Jack Taschner, Jonathan Sanchez, Patrick Misch 

Steve Kline, for the second consecutive year, played the role of primary left handed specialist out of the Giants' bullpen.  For the third consecutive season overall, his numbers continued to decline from their peak 2004 levels.  In most ways, Kline was absolutely terrible in 2007.  In 46.0 innings covering 68 appearances, the veteran southpaw allowed 58 hits and walked 18 while striking out just 17.  His ERA was 4.70, his WHIP a whopping 1.65, and his BAA was .301, including .302 versus the first batter faced (19-for-63).  He allowed over 11 hits per 9 IP.  Worse still, left handed batters hit .318 against him.  He particularly fizzled in the second half of the year when he posted a 5.95 ERA, including a 10.12 mark in August and 7.20 in September.  He also induced just two double plays after averaging nine per year over the previous eight seasons, by far his lowest total since he induced only one in 1998. 

Year

WHIP

H/9

BB/9

K/9

BAA

OBP

GO/AO

2004

1.07

6.62

3.04

6.26

.209

.291

1.88

2005

1.46

8.70

4.43

5.31

.257

.340

1.80

2006

1.53

9.23

4.53

5.75

.275

.362

1.63

2007

1.65

11.35

3.52

3.33

.301

.366

1.09

To be fair to Kline, it should also be noted that he stranded 81% (26 of 32) of his inherited runners, easily the highest mark among all relievers with at least 15 IR, and he is well liked and respected within the Giants clubhouse.  Still, the club would be wise to simply part ways with the 35-year old lefty and the $1.75 M owed to him in 2008. 

Jack Taschner appeared 63 times in 2007, second only to Kline among lefties.  In 50 innings he posted some very Jeckyll and Hyde like numbers. 

ERA

WHIP

BB/9

BAA

K/9

H/9

5.40

1.46

5.22

.235

9.18

7.92

Even more oddly, left handed batters hit .316 and slugged .494 against Taschner in '07 versus the .176 and .287 he recorded facing right handed hitters.  He also led the team with 7 walks to the first batter faced, although his 68% success ratio in stranding inherited runners (30 of 44) was second to Kline's mark (min 15 IR).  Taschner clearly has the kind of stuff that can get major league hitters out, but he will have to improve his command (29 BB in 50 IP) in order to make the roster next season.

25-year old left hander Jonathan Sanchez' future appears to lie in the Giants starting rotation, but in 2007 the second year southpaw made 29 relief appearances.  Control was his biggest issue with 23 walks and 3 hit batsmen in 35.2 innings as a reliever.  But he also struck out 43, and held hitters to a .248 batting average, including a .197 mark versus lefties (the flip side of that being that right handers hit him at a .321 clip).  Additionally, he stranded 11 of 13 inherited runners (85%), held the first batter faced to a .200 BA (6-for-30) and posted a .211 BAA with runners in scoring position (12-for-57).   

Sanchez had a rough start to the season in which he walked 13 batters in his first 14.2 IP before the club sent him down to AAA Fresno. He was then recalled a few weeks later when Russ Ortiz went on the DL and had a very strong month (10.1 IP, 4 H, 4 BB, 13 K – 1.74 ERA) before injuring his rib cage on June 25.  He then struggled badly upon his return in late July (10.2 IP, 14 H, 6 BB, 9 K – 8.13 ERA) and was optioned back down to Fresno in early August. He returned in September to make four starts before a left oblique strain shut him down for good over the final 10 days of the season.  Despite his struggles as a starter (7.27 career ERA), the Giants still see him in that role.  He has the stuff to fit it, but if he continues to slide and he were able to harness his control, he could also make a very nasty lefty specialist. 

26-year old rookie lefty Pat Misch made 18 appearances for the Giants in '07, 14 of them as a reliever, where he was clearly more effective.  As a starter, Misch went 0-4 with a 6.41 ERA, and hitters batted .345 against him.  Out of the bullpen, his ERA was 2.18, and opponents hit just .240.  He held lefties to a .238 clip, although he allowed 7 of 12 inherited runners to score (58%) and gave up 6 hits to the 14 first batters he faced (.429).  Perhaps a change in approach might be in order for Misch, who also gave up 12 hits in 23 at bats (.522) when opposing batters hit the first pitch.

He struck out 26 and walked 12 in 40.1 innings at the big league level. At Fresno, he struck out 74 and walked just 19 in 66.2 innings, mostly in relief, while holding opposing batters in the hitter-friendly PCL to a .227 mark, including just .199 as a reliever. Misch will receive strong consideration for a role with the big league club in 2008 in some capacity, although he seems better suited to relief. 

Right Handers – Brad Hennessey, Tyler Walker, Vinnie Chulk, Randy Messenger, Scott Munter, Scott Atchison, Kevin Correia 

Brad Hennessey led the Giants with 69 appearances in 2007, as the erstwhile starter spent time setting up Armando Benitez before ascending to the closers role when Benitez got dealt to Florida.  On the whole, he had respectable numbers, posting a pitching line of 3.42/1.30/.257 (ERA/WHIP/BAA) and saving 19 games, including 14 straight from June 30 through August 31.   

However, for the year, he allowed 47% of all inherited runners to score (15 of 32), and the first batter he faced batted a composite .308 against him (20-for-65 w/4 BB).  That and 3 blown saves in his last five chances (and five overall) along with the emergence of Brian Wilson put Hennessey back in the set up role where he's expected to toil again in 2008.  On the other hand, his relative youth (28 next February), status as a former top pick (#21 overall in 2001) and versatility (starter, reliever, closer) give him perhaps the best marketability he'll likely ever have, and the team ought to think seriously about packaging him in a deal for some offense.

Just food for thought: with the Giants stated desire to get younger, the Reds need for bullpen help, and the emergence this past season of Jeff Keppinger (28 in ‘08, who nevertheless faces a logjam with Alex Gonzalez, Brandon Phillips and Edwin Encarnacion in front of him), perhaps Brian Sabean and Wayne Krivsky ought to get together this winter and make something mutually beneficial happen.

One reason to let Hennessey go is the re-emergence of Tyler Walker, who returned in late August after rehabbing from Tommy John surgery only the previous July.  The San Francisco native was traded by the club to Tampa Bay in April of ‘06, where he rebounded from an awful start (15.19 ERA in 6 games for SF) to save 10 games in 12 chances with the Rays before injuring his elbow.  The Giants signed him to a minor league deal in the off-season and reaped the unexpected benefits during that rough final month as Walker appeared 15 times and was unscored upon in 14 of them, while recording 7 holds.  In 14.2 innings, he had a pitching line of 1.26/1.12/.250, and he even held left handers to just 4 hits in 22 at bats (.182).  The Giants will hope he can replicate those numbers next season and help plug some of the late inning holes that plagued the team all year long.

After doctors initially had feared that Vinnie Chulk – a smokeless tobacco user – had a blood clot and would need surgery, he was diagnosed with a rare circulatory disease, and the club expects him to return healthy in 2008.  The hope is that they will see the same production he gave them in a stellar stretch from mid-May through the end of July.  In 26 outings during that stretch, he posted a line of 2.38/1.01/.210.  Toss out 1 really bad outing in which he gave up 5 runs in 1/3 of an inning, and Chulk allowed just 1 run in 25 appearances.  He also stranded 15 of 19 inherited runners during that span, and posted a remarkable pitching line of 0.40/0.80/.160. 

That stretch, however, followed a terrible start for Chulk, who in the first month and a half put up an ERA of 4.34 while opposing hitters batted .301 against him.  He also allowed 8 of 12 inherited runners to score.  Buerger's Disease – which led to numbness and a chilly sensation in Chulk's right middle finger – then affected him in August, when he struggled again before missing the final month of the season.

Randy Messenger came to San Francisco on May 31st, when the team shed itself of the cancerous Benitez following a two-balk blown save against the Mets.  Messenger immediately impressed fans by failing to give up a run in his first 7 appearances and 17 of his first 20, as he posted a 1.07 ERA in his first 25.1 innings with San Fran.  His ERA with the Giants was 2.60 when he broke a bone in his non-pitching hand punching a plastic equipment cart in frustration on August 14th, forcing him to miss a month.  When he returned, he was simply awful, pitching seven times down the stretch and giving up 13 runs on 19 hits in 6 innings. 

Even before the injury, though, his ERA was somewhat deceptive.  In his first 30 outings before breaking his hand, hitters were batting .291 against him and 13 of his 22 inherited runners had scored (including 8 of his first 10).  Further, there isn't much in his career numbers to hang your hat on.

Year

ERA

WHIP

BAA

2005

5.35

1.87

.273

2006

5.67

1.59

.296

2007

4.20

1.65

.329

Career

5.01

1.68

.304

The 6'6" hard throwing right hander would seem to have tremendous potential, with Bochy at one point even suggesting he could be a closer someday.  But thus far in his short major league career, Messenger has lacked consistent success and should need to have a big spring in order to earn a spot in the Giants pen.

In 2005, Scott Munter's super sinker helped the lanky 6'6" righty post an ERA of 2.56 while inducing3.46 ground balls for every fly ball.  Then in '06, he imploded, posting an 8.47 ERA and a 2.12 WHIP even though he still managed 2.73 GB/FB.  Munter spent most of this season in the minors, but in 10.2 innings for San Francisco, he had a 4.22 ERA and a 1.69 WHIP and delivered 2.63 GB to every FB.  The sinker remains effective, yet hitters have increasingly feasted on him, and he rarely strikes batters out.

Year

BAA

OPS

IP

K

2005

.280

.683

38.2

11

2006

.366

.942

22.2

7

2007

.368

.865

10.2

4

The Giants feel that the 27-year old can be a contributing part of the pen, and as proof point to the 18 double play balls his super sinker has induced in his 72 big league innings, but the reality is that Munter will need to start missing a few more bats if he wants to return to San Francisco next year.  He will work on improving his game this winter as a member of the Scottsdale Scorpions of the Arizona Fall League.

Scott Atchison made his debut for the Mariners in 2004 at age 28 and threw well, posting a 3.52 ERA in 25 games.  He missed much of the 2005 season with an elbow injury, and spent all of '06 at Tacoma.  Seattle released him following that season, and the Giants signed him to a minor league deal last November. 

At Fresno this year, the well-traveled Atchison posted a 2.01 ERA and a 0.97 WHIP while striking out 51 and walking only 8 batters in 53.2 innings to earn another shot.  In 22 outings for the Giants covering 30.2 innings, he was at times effective, but generally inconsistent.  In a July recall, he pitched 4 scoreless innings, but in August, he had a 6.75 mark and a .321 BAA before rebounding to put up a 3.07 and a.240 in 14.2 innings in September.  With 2 outs and runners in scoring position, he held hitters to just 1 hit in 16 at bats (.062) this year and gave up just 4 hits to the 20 first batters he faced (.200).  He showed enough this year to be given another look in the spring. 

Kevin Correia made 51 relief appearances for the Giants before being moved to the rotation in the final month.  As a reliever, he embodied the inconsistency that plagued the bullpen in '07.

Month

IP

ERA

April

9.2

5.59

May

14.1

1.88

June

10.1

2.61

July

14.0

6.43

August

7.1

4.91

 

For Correia, a strong showing as a starter in September combined with his struggles in the pen make it "rotation or bust" in 2008.

Closer – Armando Benitez, Hennessey, Brian Wilson

In his final 8 appearances in a Giants uniform, beleaguered closer Armando Benitez surrendered 7 runs on 9 hits with 4 walks in just 7.1 innings, while losing two games and blowing two saves.  The final straw came on May 29 against his former Met teammates, when two balks coupled with a massive Carlos Delgado home run to result in a heartbreaking walk-off loss in the bottom of the 12th. Benitez was shipped out to Florida just a day later. 

Hennessey took over the closer role after his departure, doing an adequate job, but he eventually surrendered the role to second year man Brian Wilson down the stretch.  Wilson was, for the most part, impressive for San Francisco.  In 24 appearances, he had a line of 2.28/0.97/.188, while striking out 18 in 23.2 innings.  He was unscored upon in his first 11 games (with a .128 BAA) before giving up single runs in back-to-back outings.  He then put up another 9 consecutive scoreless appearances (.133 BAA) before he was shelled in his second to last outing of the year; a failed attempt at a 5-out save in which he went over 30 pitches for the only time and gave up 4 of the 6 runs he allowed in 2007 (including a 3-run go ahead home run to Brian Giles).  It was a rare blemish in his two months with the club and his only blown save in 7 chances. 

Blessed with a Rivera-like cutter and a fastball that can reach the upper 90's, Wilson proved most difficult to hit, holding right handed batters to a meager .145 batting average (9-for-62), giving up just 3 hits to the 24 first batters he faced (.125 BA with 0 walks), only allowing 4 hits in 24 AB leading off an inning (.167 again with 0 walks), and surrendering just 3 hits in 22 AB in his 6 converted saves (.136).  While he wasn't tested with many inherited runners in '07, he nevertheless stranded all three runners he was left with after successfully stranding 17 of 19 in 2006.   

The most encouraging sign for Wilson was a dramatic turn around in control.  In 2006, he walked 15 batters in 29 minor league innings and another 21 in 30 IP at the big league level.  Despite that high walk total, he entered spring training as the odds-on favorite to take the closer role away from Benitez.  However, seven more walks in 11.2 spring innings cost him a spot on the 25-man roster, and he opened the year at Fresno, where he walked 22 more in his first 24.1 innings through mid-July (interrupted by two stints on the DL for right triceps tendonitis and a 3 inning rehab stint in San Jose in June).  It was then that he seemed to turn things around.  He walked just 2 more batters in his final 10 minor league outings (10 IP).  With 6 saves during that span to go with a 0.90 ERA and his suddenly improved command, Wilson earned his recall to San Francisco, where he walked only 7 more and ultimately finished the season as the Giants closer.

Whether or not Wilson remains in that role in 2008 remains to be seen, but the team has made clear its intention to improve the bullpen.  Wilson shows a lot of promise, but his control issues are not far removed.  The idea of acquiring a top level closer such as Joe Nathan to mentor Wilson for a year or two while he proves his control issues are behind him and provides the team with a dominant setup man in the 8th is at the very least intriguing, and may be prudent when considering that batters hit .140 against Wilson in the 8th inning this year but almost 100 points higher (.238) in the 9th.  On the other hand, equally intriguing is the idea of beginning the '08 season with a possibly dominant 26-year old Wilson at the back end of the pen. 

Looking Ahead – 10 Pitchers to Watch

Sergio RomoRomo is a control specialist who has walked just 43 batters in 238 minor league innings.  This year at Class-A San Jose, he allowed only 35 hits and issued just 15 walks while striking out 106 in 66.1 innings (14.38 / 9IP) and posting a 1.36 ERA with a 0.75 WHIP. He also held opponents to a .155 batting average and saved 9 games while on his way to becoming the second consecutive San Jose Giant to win the Class-A Advanced Relief Pitcher of the Year Award (see Brian Anderson below).  He was particularly effective in the second half, when he allowed just 30 baserunners in 42.1 innings, while striking out nearly 2 batters per frame and stranding 18 of 20 inherited runners.  At one point, Romo threw 23 straight scoreless innings before allowing an unearned run.  He then followed that up with another 11 consecutive scoreless innings in which he allowed just one hit and no walks, while striking out 19.  He finished the year in style, collecting 3 post-season saves in leading San Jose to the Cal League Championship.  In the playoffs, he allowed just 2 hits and no walks in 5.1 IP without allowing a run and striking out 9.  The sidearming, aggressive 24-year old right hander keeps hitters off balance with an assortment of high 80's fastballs, slurves, and changeups thrown with pinpoint control.  He will likely begin next year in the high minors, but considering his success, he has an outside shot to make the big league club.  He is currently pitching for Scottsdale in the AFL. 

Osiris MatosMatos earned a spot on the Giants' 40-man roster with an impressive 2006 season in which he struck out 81 and walked 12 in 61 innings at Augusta.  Boasting a mid-90's fastball and a hard biting slider, the 22-year old righty posted a 2.89 ERA and a .239 BAA in 56.0 innings for AA Connecticut before beginning a late season rehab assignment at Low Class-A Augusta, where he threw 9 scoreless innings (9K, 1H, 0 BB).  From there, he finished up in the playoffs with San Jose, tossing 5.2 innings and giving up 1 run on 5 hits (again, no walks) and striking out 11.  He is expected to begin the year as the closer in Connecticut, but could see a September recall if he has a strong year.  He is currently pitching in the Dominican Winter League.

Merkin Valdez – Acquired from Atlanta in December of 2002 for Russ Ortiz, Valdez has never lived up to his tremendous potential, pitching just twice at the big league level in 2004 and getting shelled.  He was moved to the bullpen for the 2006 season, but missed all of 2007 after undergoing reconstructive surgery on his elbow.  He remains on the 40-man roster however and recently told Phillip Ramirez that he is 100% healthy and throwing in the mid-90's.  If Valdez (26 next month) can regain both his command and his slider, he could be a serious sleeper pick in 2008.  Valdez, too, is pitching in the winter leagues.

Billy SadlerThis 26-year old right hander works a two-seamer in the low 90's, but can reach 96 mph, and compliments that with a solid curve.  The 6th round pick in the 2003 draft earned a September recall and a spot on the 40-man roster in 2006 by allowing just 28 hits in 55.2 combined innings between Connecticut and Fresno, holding hitters to a collective .148 batting average.  Control issues set him back in '07.  He walked 35 batters in 42.1 innings at Fresno and 6 more in 12.1 innings for Connecticut to give him a two-year total of 72 BB in 110 IP and a total of 176 in 297 career minor league innings.  Still, he allowed only 39 hits in 54.1 innings this year, and opposing batters hit just .202 against him.  Don't count him out, but he'll need show better command or he won't remain on the 40-man past March.

Brian Anderson – After blowing just 1 save in 20 chances in a stellar 2005 campaign in which he posted a 42:3 strikeout to walk ratio and a 0.69 WHIP, the 14th round pick of the '05 draft converted his first 31saves in '06 for San Jose before setting a franchise record with 37.  He was the California League Pitcher of the Year as he struck out 85, walked 17, and held hitters to a .183 BA in 67.2 innings.  He struggled a bit this season for Connecticut – 3.93 ERA, .275 BAA in 50.1 IP – but still managed to save 29 games.  He's walked just 40 batters in 146 minor league inning, and accuracy is the key for Anderson, who lives in the high 80's with a cutting fastball and slider.  Also currently pitching for Scottsdale, he is likely to begin next season in Fresno, then earn a September recall.  He's not a future closer, but could become a valuable member of the pen in a setup role.

Justin HedrickA 6th round pick in 2004, this right hander came on strong in 2006, posting a 2.00 ERA and a .182 BAA along with a 0.97 WHIP for San Jose.  He also struck out 110 while walking just 30 in 85.2 innings.  This year for Connecticut in 71.1 IP, he struck out 72 and walked 37, recording a 2.14 ERA and holding opponents to a .215 batting average.  He had a mid-season blip but finished strong with a 0.84 ERA over his last 21.1 innings.  He is lanky with long arms and throws four pitches; a fastball, slurve, slider and a splitter that is his strikeout pitch.  He's Fresno bound, but he's another likely September recall, if not sooner.

Steve EdlefsenA former all-state hitter as a shortstop in high school who set a Nebraska school record with six hits in a game, Edlefsen was a 16th-round pick for San Francisco in 2007, and thrived in his first professional season as a pitcher.  In 33.1 innings for Salem-Kaizer, he allowed just 14 hits and held hitters to a .131 average.  He didn't discriminate either, holding lefties to a .139 mark and right-handers to .127 average.  He throws a power sinker and a short breaking ball that prompted his manager Steve Decker to say that he might have the best stuff on the team.  Salem-Kaizer, for the record, finished the year 57-19 with an SAL-best 3.40 team ERA.  Edlefsen had Tommy John surgery while in junior college. While he isn't expected in the big leagues anytime soon, he'll be watched very closely the next couple of seasons.

Alex Hinshaw – This 24-year old southpaw (15th round – 2005) had a breakout year for Connecticut, allowing just 22 hits and striking out 50 in 41.1 innings.  Opposing batters hit just .155 as a whole against him with lefties batting just .119.  He had a 1.96 ERA, a 0.99 WHIP, and walked just 19 this season after walking 78 in his first 92 professional innings over the previous two.

Waldis JoaquinSigned as an undrafted free agent in 2004, Joaquin showed initial promise in an his pro debut in '05 (37 K and 10 BB in 29.2 IP).  He then missed all of 2006 after Tommy John surgery, but bounced back with a strong '07 campaign for Salem-Kaizer in which he had a 2.84 ERA and a .176 BAA.  What makes him special is arguably the most explosive fastball in the Giants' minor league system.  He works it in the high 90's, and has topped 100 this fall in the Instructional League. He compliments that with a hard, low 90's slider.  21-years old this Christmas Day, Joaquin needs to learn a bit more about the art of pitching, but he is a name for Giants fans to put on their collective radar.  He is likely to begin the year in Augusta with a mid-season promotion to San Jose in order.

Daniel Otero – When it comes to control specialists, this kid tops the list.  Otero earned the MiLB.com Class-A Short Season Relief Pitcher of the Year Award in his first pro season by putting up some remarkable numbers.  He recorded saves in his first 17 consecutive appearances, and finished the year a perfect 19-for-19 over his 22 outings.  Additionally, he went unscored upon in 19 of his first 20 games, finishing all 22 he entered.  In 22.1 innings, he allowed just 3 runs and 12 hits while striking out 15.  Opponents batted just .154 against him, and he had absolutely silly 0.54 WHIP on the strength of his zero walks issued.  At one point, he even retired 22 straight batters.  On top of all that, he recorded saves in the last two games of the Northwest League Championship series, tossing two more scoreless innings, again without walking a batter.  A 21st round pick in '07 and lifelong starter, Otero throws much like the man he modeled himself after, Greg Maddux.  His fastball sits in the high 80's, and he compliments that pitch with a slider and changeup, not to mention impeccable control.  A strong spring could earn him a spot in San Jose and a fast track to the majors.

Read more from Richard Van Zandt at BaseballEvolution.com

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