Second Freak Injury Recharges Affeldt’s Season

Jeremy Affeldt is left-handed relief pitcher for the San Francisco Giants. Some, including me, have referred to him as a LOOGY (Lefty One-Out GuY) over the years, but that’s not entirely the case. This is Affeldt’s fourth season with the Giants, his eleventh overall in the majors. The only season with the Giants in which he’s been more effective against left-handed batters than righties was 2011, as measured by K/BB, wOBA and FIP.

2009 2010 2011 2012
K/BB v L 1.44 1.55 4.80 2.67
K/BB v R 2.33 2.08 1.58 3.67
wOBA v L .325 .360 .197 .278
wOBA v R .225 .336 .331 .312
FIP v L 4.52 3.91 2.47 2.53
FIP v R 2.93 4.02 4.54 3.03

In 2009, a year in which he dominated right-handed batters but had less success against lefties, Affeldt was named the Set-Up Man of the Year by Major League Baseball. The same was true in 2010, although overall Affeldt was less effective the year the Giants won the World Series. That is, until he did this in Game 6 of the NLCS, after Jonathan Sanchez lost his release point and his mind in the 3rd inning. (Sorry Phillies fans).

Last season, Affeldt lived up to the LOOGY tag, which had unfortunate consequences for the Giants when manager Bruce Bochy used Affeldt more against right-handed batters. Then, in early September, with the Giants clinging to small hopes for the National League Wild Card, Affeldt sliced a nerve in his right hand while trying to separate frozen hamburger patties. Freak injury number 1 for Affeldt, and the end of his 2011 season.

San Francisco picked up Affeldt’s $5 million option in the offseason, much to the chagrin of many Giants fans, including me. The concern was not so much having Affeldt back in the bullpen, but at that price. Together with a new deal for much-more-like-a-real-LOOGY Javier Lopez for $4.25 million/year, the Giants has spent nearly $10 million on two relievers and then claimed to be at the top of their payroll.

The concern turned to dismay when the season got underway.

Affeldt’s effectiveness depends largely on his sweeping curveball. When Affeldt’s curve is working, it does things like this:

When Affeldt’s curve is not working, it does things like this:

Affeldt’s curve wasn’t working much at all in April. Here’s a chart showing his pitch locations for his April games, combined:

In 11 innings, he faced 53 batters, allowed 15 hits, 4 walks, 1 hit-by-pitch and 2 wild pitches, including the one in the video. The other wild pitch also scored a run.

Enter freak injury number 2.

The Giants placed Affeldt on the disabled list on May 1 with a sprained MCL in his right knee. The cause? Affeldt’s preternaturally large 4-and-one-half-year-old son. Walker Affeldt (yes, that’s what a relief pitcher named his son) is 4-foot-six and weighs 60 pounds. After Daddy Affeldt returned home from the ballpark, Walker, excitedly jumped off the sofa and into his dad’s arms. Affeldt felt a pop and his knee was swollen like a bowling ball the next morning.

Affeldt returned to action on May 13 in a game against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Including that game, Affeldt’s had 9 relief appearances since the flying-Walker incident: 9.2 innings, 35 batters faced, 4 hits, 2 walks, 9 strikeouts, 1 run allowed. The one run came last night, and was costly: a game-tying home run in the bottom of the 8th to Carlos Quentin. But you can’t blame Affeldt much for the pitch he threw Quentin.

Down in the zone. Quentin just muscled it out of Petco Park. (Yes, that’s humanly-possible.)

Here’s a chart with Affeldt’s pitch locations in the 9 games since May 13:

Affeldt’s curve is much tighter, ending either up in the zone, or outside and just below the zone. In April, the curve was too far off the plate. Batters didn’t have to swing, and didn’t.

It’s silly to suggest that Walker Affeldt’s sofa-jumping exploits turned his dad’s season around. More likely, the time on the disabled list gave Jeremy Affeldt time to clear his mind and work on his mechanics. Whatever the cause, the effect is noticeable. Much to the delight of Giants fans.

Oh, and it’s Jeremy Affeldt’s birthday today. Here’s hoping he gets a nice, gentle hug from his son.



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Wendy writes about sports and the business of sports. She's been published most recently by Vice Sports, Deadspin and NewYorker.com. You can find her work at wendythurm.pressfolios.com and follow her on Twitter @hangingsliders.


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