After being one of the most productive relievers and setup men for several years (without really using a fastball) Sergio Romo and his incredible slider were finally slotted into the closing role at the end of last season. After 14 saves, a 1.79 ERA on the year and a World Series title, it’s safe to say it was a smooth and successful transition.
While nobody is doubting Romo’s ability to close as closing is more of a role not a skill and Romo has certainly proven to be an incredible threat out of the bullpen with a career 2.20 ERA, 2.41 FIP and 30.4%, his history of elbow tenderness and frequency of slider usage (63% in 2012) is a slight cause for alarm. When on the mound Romo is one of the most effective relievers in baseball, but how often he will be there will affect his value and the relievers behind him. Considering that the Giants want to be careful with his work load, it’s worth noting who will be behind Romo for saves.
Santiago Casilla might have lost his hold (pun intended?) on the closing gig to Sergio Romo last year but the Giants wouldn’t hand him a three-year $14 million extension if they didn’t think anything of him. Casilla, like several Giants pitchers in AT & T Park, historically has outpitched his xFIP and does a great job of killing worms with a solid ground ball % of 55% last year. However, Casilla doesn’t quite get the strikeouts that at least fantasy owners would like to see out of their non-closer relievers with a 20.2 % strikeout rate last year. It’s certainly nothing to sneeze at but 20.2% would be a three year low for Casilla who had a 24.9 % strikeout rate in 2010. Further, his SwStr% of 9.3% last year is basically league average (9.1%) and while it’s not going to hurt your team as everyone who’s next-in-line for saves is rosterable (even Mo can go down), one has to ask — is Casilla the next man up?
The Giants have a pair of effective lefties in Javier Lopez and Jeremy Affeldt that each saved games last year but as Eno Sarris pointed out last year, don’t bet on the lefty closer holding onto the job all year. Still, behind one pair of lefties lies another pair of relievers in George Kontos (R) and Jose Mijares (L), and after that you’re looking at uninspiring names like Ramon Ramirez and Shane Loux. Now, Romo is undoubtedly the closer but with so few righties in the Giants bullpen as of now, if Romo were to go down you have to wonder if Bochy would want to hold out using his best (and maybe only useful) right-handed reliever until the ninth inning. With that said, look for Affeldt and/or Lopez to get some looks for saves if Romo were to miss significant time or if Bochy just wants to watch his work load as we previously mentioned.
Javier Lopez is your typical LOOGY with a glaring platoon split as right-handed batters have a .354 wOBA against Lopez while lefties only have a .279 wOBA against. Like most lefties, Affeldt is more successful when facing left-handed batters but for his career right-handed batters only have a .324 wOBA against and last year that number was .290. Small sample size certainly apply, but Affeldt’s ability to get batters out on both sides of the plate makes him valuable to the Giants, especially given their dearth of right-handed pitchers in the pen.
Briefly mentioned before, George Kontos is an interesting guy to watch this year. A former starter in the Yankees farm system acquired by the Giants for Chris Stewart in April of last year, Kontos has taken to relief over last few years in the minors, and is now bearing some fruit at the major league level. Kontos pitched 43.2 impressive innings for the Giants in 2012 with a 2.47 ERA and 2.80 FIP and a solid 24.9% strikeout rate. Also promising, Kontos gets ground balls (51.3% ground ball rare last year) and limits his walks with a solid BB% of 6.8%. A former starter in the Yankees farm system, Kontos has taken to relief over last few years in the minors, and is now bearing some fruit at the major league level.
Early pecking order:
Set up men:
Jeremy Affeldt (L)
Javier Lopez (L)
Jose Mijares (L)