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Who Closes For the Giants?

Posted By Chris Cwik On April 16, 2012 @ 9:15 am In Closers | 25 Comments

The San Francisco Giants aren’t picking up any good vibrations from Brian Wilson. Wilson complained of elbow pain this weekend, and will likely miss the remainder of the season. Between 2008 and 2011, Wilson saved 163 games for the Giants, emerging as one of the best closers in the game. With him now out, the Giants will need to find an acceptable replacement. Given that the Giants have a strong pitching staff that should keep them in a lot of games, that replacement could have considerable value in fantasy leagues.

Manager Bruce Bochy was hesitant to name one guy as the replacement, instead opting for a combination of Sergio Romo, Santiago Casilla and Javier Lopez. More often than not, closer committees don’t last long. Managers typically ride the hot hand until things take a turn for the worse. With that in mind, here’s how each player stacks up.

Of the three, Lopez is the riskiest choice. Lopez has walked 10.4% of batters in his career while striking out only 15.1%. While Lopez has been effective against left-handed hitters over his career, he should never face righties. Against right-handed hitters, Lopez actually walks more batters than he strikes out. Lopez would be best employed in his current role as a matchup guy. If Bochy plans on allowing him to pitch an inning at a time, opposing managers throw as many righties out there as possible.

Casilla had a microscopic 1.74 ERA last season, but pitched much better than out-pitched his peripherals. While Casilla was still effective — his FIP was just 3.10 — he also struggles with walks. Casilla will strikeout a fair amount of hitters, though, and could be effective in the role unless his poor control comes back to haunt him. Casilla was Bochy’s first choice to close last year when Wilson missed time at the end of the season.

While Casilla would be effective, Sergio Romo is easily the best option out of the bullpen — and may have been even when Brian Wilson was healthy. Over his career, Romo was struck out 30.5% of batters while walking just 5.5%. Those are phenomenal numbers. Romo is other-worldly against righties, holding a ridiculous 7.86 K/BB ratio against them over his career. He’s also extremely effective against lefties, holding a career 2.80 FIP against them. If Romo gets the job, he could easily become one of the best closers in the game.

Even though Romo has proven to be one of the best relievers in baseball, Bochy seems hesitant to use him for prolonged periods of time. While Romo appeared in 65 games last year, he only threw 48.0 innings. Both Casilla and Lopez threw more innings last year, and Casilla only appeared in 49 for the Giants.

Even with fewer innings, Romo’s 2.2 WAR was easily the best of the group. Bochy’s refusal to give him innings is maddening. Of course, that could all change now that Wilson is out. Based on last season, though, Casilla might be the favorite to lay claim to the role. While he’ll probably do well enough to be worth a waiver wire claim in most leagues, Romo would be one of the most coveted free-agents if he claimed the job. Allocating playing time to his best players isn’t one of Bochy’s strengths, and it appears that trait will carry over to the closer role. Casilla looks like the choice now, but keep an eye on Romo.


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