The San Francisco Firemen

When you think of the San Francisco Giants bullpen, you think of Brian Wilson. Since assuming the closer’s role four years ago, Wilson has been the face – and the beard – of relief pitching in the Bay Area. That recognition comes with merit since the right-hander has been one of the better relief pitchers in baseball and his save totals (160 since 2008) shows he is well-equipped with the closer’s mentality. While he has done a great job closing the door, the pitchers bridging the gap from starting pitcher to Wilson has been as good, if not better.

As a unit, Bruce Bochy’s bunch has been a top-3 bullpen this season. More specifically, he has deployed a lefty/righty combination of high-leverage relievers to lock down the innings prior to his closer. From the left side, Javier Lopez has been quite the pickup for the Giants since joining the club in late 2010. As an alumni of the FanGraphs’ school of higher leverage, Lopez has settled in as one of the more dependable lefties in relief.

Coming into Wednesday evening, Lopez had tossed 42 innings with a 2.57 ERA and a 3.16 FIP. His xFIP of 3.92 is much higher; however, he is an extreme groundball pitcher with GB rates above 60% in each of the last two seasons. Because of this, his home run rate is usually below the norm, meaning he is a perennial candidate to outperform his xFIP. Lopez has taken that theory to the max this year as the lefty has yet to allow a home run to any of the 174 batters he has faced.

The one flaw with Lopez comes in the form of splits. Not uncommon for his skill-set – a soft-tossing, left-handed reliever – right-handed batters have much more success against him their left-handed counterparts. Despite the difference in effectiveness (3.94 FIP vs. RHB, 2.45 FIP vs. LHB), Lopez has actually faced more RHB (92) than LHB (82). Considering some of the non-closing, right-handed pitchers available in the Giants’ bullpen, this is a rather unnecessary exercise.

One of those right-handers is Sergio Romo. Despite his small stature (listed at 5-foot-10 and 185 pounds) and his relative lack of “stuff” (average fastball velocity of 89.5 this season), Romo can rack up strikeouts with the best of them. Among qualified relievers, his 12.87 K/9 ranks sixth best in the major leagues. Where Romo sets himself apart from his fellow strikeout artists is command and control. Of the five names above him, only Vinnie Pestano of the Cleveland Indians has a BB/9 less than 3.00. Romo, on the other hand, has a BB/9 of 1.01. While striking out 52 batters this season, he has allowed just four walks and one of those was intentional.

Unlike his left-handed partner, Lopez, Romo has been deployed as a specialist by Bochy. Although he has shown the ability to get left-handed batters out (2.84 FIP/4.00 xFIP career), Romo has pitched with the platoon split to his advantage 72% of the time this season. That ties him for the highest rate among relievers with at least 30 innings pitched. Oddly enough, he is tied with teammate and fellow right-hander Ramon Ramirez, another sign that Lopez should not be facing as many right-handed batters.

Because he has been death to righties (0.44 FIP/0.84 xFIP) and his manager has put him in favorable situations most often, Romo has become a true relief ace. In fact, he leads the majors in both FIP (1.20) and xFIP (1.56) for relief pitchers. Since he is used so systematically, he has pitched just 35 innings despite 50 appearances; however, those 35 innings have been worth 1.6 WAR.

While Wilson will continue to rack up the saves – and therefore all the glory – it is the work of Lopez, Romo, and others – like Ramirez and Jeremy Affeldt – that afford him with the opportunity to shine in the ninth inning. Although they may never appear on the Rolaids Relief Man leaderboard (that would currently be…Brian Wilson), it is the unsung members of the San Francisco pen who are putting out the early inning fires before Wilson is able to cross his arms and signify another Giants’ victory.



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Tommy Rancel also writes for Bloomberg Sports and ESPNFlorida.com. Follow on twitter @TRancel


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Kogoruhn
Member
Kogoruhn
5 years 1 month ago

An added note about Romo is he has currently retired 28 consecutive batters

fiji.siv
Guest
fiji.siv
5 years 1 month ago

Romo faced 29 batters in July and allowed ONE baserunner. Good enough for a 0.10 WHIP. He backed that up with a tidy 12.1 K/9. Just not fair.

kriz
Guest
kriz
5 years 1 month ago

An extended perfect game…

I like to see Giants relievers other than Wilson get some credit. They are a huge part of the teams success this season and last.

channelclemente
Guest
5 years 1 month ago

When your scoring ~ 3.3 runs/game on average, they are the reason for the Giants success.

kriz
Guest
kriz
5 years 1 month ago

I give the SPs some credit too…

Hurtlocker
Guest
Hurtlocker
5 years 1 month ago

These guys are the reason the Giants win so many one run games. When the Giants have a two run lead after the 7th inning the other team might as well just go home.

jim
Guest
jim
5 years 1 month ago

when have the giants ever had a two-run lead ?

channelclemente
Guest
5 years 1 month ago

Yesterday.

mooks
Guest
mooks
5 years 1 month ago

Yeah, Bochy using Lopez against so many RHB is infuriating. Dude usually runs a tight bullpen so it’s especially mysterious.

It’s like he thinks Romo is the ROOGY when it’s clearly the other way around. I have no idea what he sees that makes him think otherwise, especially since he has the biggest hard on for lefty/righty matchups when it comes to assembling lineups/PH appearances.

crzy
Guest
crzy
5 years 1 month ago

I think the reason that Bochy won’t use Romo against right handers is because he still can’t forgive him for those two runs he gave up against the Braves in the NLDS, costing them the game.

mooks
Guest
mooks
5 years 1 month ago

You mean against LHB? And yeah if that’s the case it’s still an infuriating way to manage a bullpen.

DrBGiantsfan
Guest
5 years 1 month ago

When the Giants bullpen has been so good and is likely the biggest reason they are in first place, and even why they won the championship last year, I just don’t understand how you can call Bochy’s management “infuriating.” Infuriating for the opposing teams, maybe, but certainly not for me. Personally I love the way Bochy manages the bullpen.

As for Lopez facing RH batters, it’s often because of switch-hitters that Bochy would rather have batting RH, or else a RH batter sandwiched between 2 LH batters.

Bochy’s management is just fine, thank you!

GiantHusker
Guest
GiantHusker
5 years 1 month ago

No, DrB, the bullpen is not the biggest reason for either of those accomplishments. The starting pitching is a far bigger reason–the bullpen 2nd.

DrBGiantsfan
Guest
5 years 1 month ago

The Giants wouldn’t have gotten where they are without either one and if you want to say the SP’s are more important, that’s OK with me. Doesn’t make change the main point of my comment which is I’m more than happy with Bochy’s management of the bullpen. Come to think of it, I’m fine with his management of he starters too!

A comment saying Bochy’s bullpen management is “infuriating” is about as ignorant as someone who claims to be a knowledgeable baseball fan can get.

channelclemente
Guest
5 years 1 month ago

The reason Bochy doesn’t use him more against LHB is his slider is not as effective, his cut FB hasn’t been dramatically effective from a low 3/4 realease and tends drift over the plate at 90 MPH, a batting T.

williams .482
Member
Member
williams .482
5 years 1 month ago

What do you mean? are you saying that a sidewinding lefty’s slider is going to be more effective against right handers? A sidewinding lefty who, unsurprisingly, has demonstrated a very large career and seasonal platoon split?

DrBGiantsfan
Guest
5 years 1 month ago

Lopez’ slider breaks in two planes and induces a lot of ground balls. He can throw it at the back foot of a RH batter for a K.

Romo’s slider is a 1 planer. It has more sideways break than any other slider in baseball and is unhittable for RH batters but he can’t break to down at the back foot to LH batters. If he throws the slider to break off the plate inside, it hits the batter. If he goes back door with it, it breaks right into the LH batter’s wheelhouse.

Romo is starting to occasionaly throw a nice little fading changeup to LH batters but until it’s more developed and he has more confidence in it, I can certainly see why Bochy doesn’t trust him against LH batters.

DD
Guest
DD
5 years 1 month ago

I’ve heard Romo’s slider is a “no-dot” slider, meaning because of his relase point a red dot from the spinning seams does not show to the hitter, and they can’t recognize it. I’d expect this to be more true for RHB.

ElJimador
Guest
ElJimador
5 years 1 month ago

Career Platoon Splits:

Lopez:
vs. RHB: .291/.377/.420 (.797 ops)
vs. LHB: .222/.315/.311 (.626 ops)

Ramirez:
vs. RHB: .199/.280/.314 (.594 ops)
vs. LHB: .257/.334/.397 (.731 ops)

Romo:
vs. RHB: .182/.235/.305 (.540 ops)
vs. LHB: .195/.259/.295 (.554 ops)

I can understand looking at Romo’s stuff and thinking he shouldn’t be as effective vs. lefties. But shouldn’t actual results matter at some point?

Matt
Guest
Matt
5 years 1 month ago

Indeed it is a “no dot” slider. I’d be interested in all the pitchers in the league with a no dot slider…all I know for now is Romo and Gregorson.

DrBGiantsfan
Guest
5 years 1 month ago

This year:

Lopez .253 vs RHB; .137 vs LHB.

Romo .257 vs LHB; .111 vs RHB.

Romo has allowed 2 HR’s 1 vs RHB and LHB each. Lopez has allowed 0 HR’s.

Again, a lot of the RHB’s Lopez faces are switch hitters who I’m guessing don’t have as good numbers from the right side so that’s the way Bochy wants them to bat. He also faces some RHB’s who are sandwiched between two LHB’s. Then there’s always pinch-hitters with opposing managers trying to get a better matchup.

The Giants have 2 LHP’s in the bullpen whereas they have 5 RHP’s so it wouldn’t be surprising that Bochy would want to keep Lopez in for for a RHB sandwiched between two LHB’s so he doesn’t have to burn up 2 lefties in one inning.

I have no problem with a minor disagreement with Bochy’s bullpen strategy, but the one thing the man has always had in his entire managing career is great bullpens. To call his bullpen management “infuriating” is just plain ignorant!

ElJimador
Guest
ElJimador
5 years 1 month ago

DrB you keep saying that the righties Lopez faces are either sandwiched between 2 lefties or are switch hitters who we should want hitting from the right side, but look at the numbers. Lopez has actually faced more RHB this year than LHB (94 to 83). Not only that, he’s even faced more RHB than Romo has (93 vs only 36 LHB)! So in terms of usage clearly it’s not just the occasional “sandwiched” righty or Lance Berkman that Lopez is facing. It’s more like Romo doesn’t get the call at all unless he’s coming in to face back to back RHB. As in,

RRL = Romo, but
LRL = Lopez
LRS = Lopez
SRL = Lopez
RLR = Lopez

etc. Otherwise you can’t get to those usage numbers. As for effectiveness, you point to BA and HR splits how about the fact that RHB have an OBP nearly 100 points higher vs. Lopez (.376) than LHB have vs. Romo (.278)?

I don’t question Bochy’s managing on a lot but the way he uses Lopez and Romo is entirely backwards, especially when it comes to the 8th inning hold situations. It should be Lopez used as the specialist while Romo is the guy left in to face the opposite handed or switch hitters sandwiched in between.

jim
Guest
jim
5 years 1 month ago

this is all the rest of MLB needs: an article about how to make san fran’s bullpen BETTER

Giant Torture
Guest
Giant Torture
5 years 1 month ago

Don’t worry it’s a known fact that neither Sabes or Bochy have Internet access, and even if they did they have no use for you nerbs and your crazy statz. FACT: Javier Lopez has 5 wins, Sergio Romo only has 3.

AustinRHL
Member
AustinRHL
5 years 1 month ago

Lopez is somewhat unusual in being a ground-ball pitcher with a depressed HR/FB for his career. Generally, high-GB% guys have inflated HR/FB, although of course their HR/9 will still be low. Roy Halladay, Derek Lowe, Brandon Webb, and Brandon League are good examples of the phenomenon.

Jim
Guest
Jim
5 years 1 month ago

With regard to Lopez, the ‘extreme groundball pitcher’ element shouldn’t help his xFIP, right? xFIP normalizes HR/FB, not HR/9 or anything. His xFIP should still be based on the assumption that, given a fly-ball, whats the percentage it is a home-run? The fact that he gives up less fly balls has no bearing on this.

In fact, the glossary indicates that “…groundball pitchers typically have a higher HR/FB rate than flyball pitchers.” Perhaps meaning that when a groundball pitcher misses, it’s with the kind of pitch that gets walloped. So shouldn’t he be a candidate to underperform his xFIP?

http://www.fangraphs.com/library/index.php/pitching/xfip/

I might be misunderstanding.

AustinRHL
Member
AustinRHL
5 years 1 month ago

Yeah, that’s what I was getting at with my comment above. Either Tommy completely misunderstands xFIP, or he just worded his sentence particularly poorly.

Jim
Guest
Jim
5 years 1 month ago

Yeah, saw your post right after I finished mine. Interesting, though, that there are some guys who seem to sustain that kind of performance.

Ryan
Member
Ryan
5 years 1 month ago

We all know it’s the magic pixie dust in at&t park that allows pitchers to beat their xFIPs.

Giant Torture
Guest
Giant Torture
5 years 1 month ago

Matt Cain laughs at you and your xFIP.

jim
Guest
jim
5 years 1 month ago

fuck you, i was here first

Jim
Guest
Jim
5 years 1 month ago

its on. battle of jims

channelclemente
Guest
5 years 1 month ago

Jim and his other brother Jim, has a familiar ring to it.

jim
Guest
jim
5 years 1 month ago

a jim-off, if you will

Tommy
Guest
Tommy
5 years 1 month ago

I should’ve made it more clear. Because GB & a low HR/9 his FIP is generally lower that his xFIP which has bounced around because of HR/FB fluctuation.

Yirmiyahu
Member
Yirmiyahu
5 years 1 month ago

That still doesn’t make sense, Tommy. There’s no reason (other than luck) that a groundballer should have an FIP lower than his xFIP.

Looks to me that Lopez has simply gotten lucky on flyballs for his career, and you’re groping to find an explanation for it.

pbjsandwich
Member
pbjsandwich
5 years 1 month ago

i feel safer with lopez going against RHB in high leverage situations than Ramirez

Tommy
Guest
Tommy
5 years 1 month ago

As a side note the fluctuation in HR/FB throughout Lopez’s career is pretty extreme and interesting in itself.

Yirmiyahu
Member
Yirmiyahu
5 years 1 month ago

Not really. As you’ve pointed out, he’s an extreme groundballer and a LOOGY. That means that you’re dealing with a very small sample size of flyballs each season. Hence, less of an opportunity for the numbers to stabilize withithe season.

Matt
Guest
Matt
5 years 1 month ago

The extreme groundballer part of your statement is accurate, the LOOGY part, no so much. For his career he has faced 739 lefties and 743 righties, more right handed hitters than left handed. He should be a LOOGY, but he’s never really been used as one.

Romosexual
Guest
Romosexual
5 years 1 month ago

Being a Giants fan with a fine, dark beard who watches Sergio Romo pitch on a regular basis I bristled a bit at the “lack of stuff” line. No, he doesnt throw 98, but are radar gun readings the definition of ‘stuff’? Romo’s slider breaks bigger than Hawaii’s North Shore. That qualifies as ‘stuff’ to me. Dude is filthy.

mooks
Guest
mooks
5 years 1 month ago

Not to mention it looks exactly the same as the fastball coming out of his hand and right up until it flies laterally across the plate.

Ryan Howard
Guest
Ryan Howard
5 years 1 month ago

I agree. That little bearded Mexican is some sort of wizard.

Adam K.
Guest
Adam K.
5 years 1 month ago

the best way to describe romos unbelievably filthy slider is that it is as if he is throwing a wiffle ball

Tommy
Guest
Tommy
5 years 1 month ago

The AT & T factor helps with the past two seasons, but he’s also posted some low HR/FB totals in Coors Field and Fenway park.

Matt Cain's massive throbbing xFIP
Guest
Matt Cain's massive throbbing xFIP
5 years 1 month ago

Thanks Tommy for giving some love to the dudes who make it happen on a nightly basis for our luck driven, no hitting, even run differencial, non walking, big head managed, island of misfit toys.

Nelson Cruz
Guest
Nelson Cruz
5 years 1 month ago

No comment

Cuban X Senators
Member
Cuban X Senators
5 years 1 month ago

Apparently Romo’s slider does not show the usual tell-tale, red dot. Not sure whether that varies with hitters’ handedness.

The End
Guest
The End
5 years 1 month ago

what’s the perception of Romo around the league? would he bring back a decent in a trade?

The End
Guest
The End
5 years 1 month ago

a decent haul, that is…

The End
Guest
The End
5 years 1 month ago

btw, OP doesn’t even mention Santiago Casilla?

Sitting Curveball
Member
5 years 1 month ago

Kinda got turned off by “and his save totals show he is well-equipped with the closer mentality”. Really?

Yakuzafro
Guest
Yakuzafro
5 years 1 month ago

Yeah, one of the less “FanGraphy” articles I’ve seen. “Closer mentality” mentioned along with a misunderstanding of xFIP all in the same post.. blurgh..

GiantHusker
Guest
GiantHusker
5 years 1 month ago

Apparently, any pitcher who gets almost all of his team’s save opportunities has a closer mentality, because he always ends up with the most saves.
Maybe some FanGraphs writer should explore this oddity.

Tommyboy
Guest
Tommyboy
5 years 1 month ago

Don’t forget Mota’s six consecutive K’s yesterday. Agree 100% with the author’s analysis of the go-to guys in the pen. They don’t receive the credit they deserve but I also think some of those guys prefer to avoid the spotlight altogether.

GiantHusker
Guest
GiantHusker
5 years 1 month ago

Wow! An extreme case of SSS. Mota’s WAR is around zero.

DanVan18
Guest
DanVan18
5 years 1 month ago

The “no dot” slider Romo throws is due to the way he releases it. He throws it so the dot is behind the ball instead of out front, so the hitter cant pick it up until its too late.

jacob
Guest
jacob
5 years 1 month ago

“As an alumni”

Are there more than 1 Javier Lopez on the Giants. the word alumni is male plural. I think you mean alumnus.

GiantHusker
Guest
GiantHusker
5 years 1 month ago

Most of us managed to understand the intent of this phrase despite the egregious error.

channelclemente
Guest
5 years 1 month ago

Learning to live with OCD, huh. Good luck.

Liem
Guest
Liem
5 years 1 month ago

Romanes eunt domus

AA
Guest
AA
5 years 1 month ago

“Stuff” and velocity are not synonymous. Greg Maddux had sick stuff, but not great velocity. Daniel Cabrera had great velocity, but no stuff.

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