San Francisco Giants: Rookie Relievers Bringing Heat


For years, the San Francisco Giants’ bullpen has been a huge weapon. From the beginning of the 2009 season until the end of the 2013 season, the relievers have put up a very stout 3.28 ERA. So far in the 2014 season, that number is even better, with a 3.06 bullpen ERA.

The only thing the Giants are missing is that power arm coming out of the pen. Rookie relievers Hunter Strickland and Erik Cordier are looking to fill that void.

The Giants’ bullpen is full of finesse pitching. Santiago Casilla is the closest thing the team has to a power pitcher, and even then, he’s not the prototypical idea of a power guy. His repertoire is overpowering, with a hard-breaking slider and powerful, tight curveball, but his average fastball velocity sits at 94 miles per hour.

He has been known to reach down and bring out a few extra ticks on the radar gun, but that usually only comes out in sticky situations. His control is suspect as well, so tapering the fastball velocity helps alleviate some of those control problems.

Sergio Romo has made a career out of his control. His fastball tops out around 88 miles per hour, but he makes up for that with impeccable command and a swing-and-miss slider. For his career, he owns a very impressive 1.9 walk per nine innings rate, as well as a WHIP of .932, totals that have made him a premier reliever throughout baseball.

Javier Lopez is a perfect example of the left-handed specialist. His fastball doesn’t reach 90, but he has great control and a good slider. His effectiveness comes from deception, as he hides the ball well and keeps opposing hitters off balance. For his twelve-year career, left-handed opponents have hit .210 off Lopez, and he has allowed just 10 home runs to southpaws, a rate of one every 92.7 at-bats.

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Jeremy Affeldt and Jean Machi are very similar pitchers. They both rely on heavy sink to get groundball outs and double plays. Affeldt, the lefty, has a sinking two-seam fastball that mixes well with his big looping curveball to keep hitters from getting under his pitches.

Machi, the hefty righty, uses his splitter’s hard downward bite to keep away from the barrel of opposing bats and induce a lot of soft grounders. He throws a hard splitter as well, with a good average velocity of 92.2.

Juan Gutierrez also has some of the makings of a power pitcher, as he features a sharp curveball and good velocity. The big right-hander relies more on timing though, as he is known for a sluggish pace and deliberate delivery. He does a good job of making hitters uncomfortable in the box and throwing off their rhythm.

These six guys have been the main relievers for the Giants this season. As a group, their average fastball velocity sits at 91.2 mph so far this year, which is lower than the Major League average of 92. But the addition of two young September callus has breathed some life into the radar gun.

Erik Cordier and Hunter Strickland are the definition of power pitchers. They’re big guys, each standing at 6’4”, and they can throw hard. Cordier’s Major League debut on September 3rd was nothing short of dazzling. His first pitch was an easy 100 mph fastball, and he followed that up with a cool 101 two pitches later.

Even though his control was shady, he worked his way through trouble. After he walked and hit a batter, he worked a weak pop-up to end the threat and the inning. He threw twenty-five pitches total, and his average fastball velocity was exactly 100 mph.

Control has always been the issue with Cordier. He spent 11 years in the minors, and for his career averaged over five walks per nine innings. While guys like Romo rely on control over velocity, Erik Corder relies on pure power over command. The power brought him a rate of 11.6 strikeouts per nine innings in Fresno this season before his first career big league call-up.

In his first three appearances with the Giants, Cordier has gone three innings, given up two hits, a walk, hit two batters, but has struck out four. His most recent outing against the Arizona Diamondbacks was very good, as he worked a perfect inning, struck out one and threw ten pitches, eight of which were strikes. The stuff is there, but it’s still raw and needs work.

Strickland has the best of both worlds. The country boy from Georgia has the fastball of a power pitcher but complements it with the command of a finesse guy. Strickland’s first five appearances have been very good for the Giants. His fastball velocity is high, with an average of 97.7, but he has also not allowed a walk or hit a batter. In 4.1 innings, opponents have five hits and have struck out five times.

Strickland has all the makings of an elite pitcher in the back-end of a bullpen. For his minor league career, he has walked just 1.8 batters per 9 innings and boasted a very strong 1.23 WHIP. He proved his value in 2014 as the closer in AA Richmond. In 35.2 innings, he struck out 48 while walking just 4 batters. A 12:1 K/BB ratio is nearly unheard of at any level.

It seems that manager Bruce Bochy already has faith in Strickland. Bochy showed his confidence when he brought the twenty-five year old right-hander in to a close game against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Bringing the rookie reliever into a close game against the division leader in September shows that Strickland could be a big part of the future for the Giants bullpen.

In 2015, there may be some openings in the bullpen. Romo will be a free agent, and he’s not necessarily a lock to be re-signed, and there will be other question marks. If there is an open spot, Strickland seems like a more likely pick to fill the void. His control and overall stuff makes him the more attractive option.

Cordier has phenomenal stuff, but his lack of command marks him as a liability. He seems like a better fit as a Triple-A pitcher on call to the big leagues.

Velocity isn’t everything. The success of pitchers like Romo, Machi and Lopez proves that. But sometimes, a bullpen needs a guy who can come in and blow away hitters with pure heat. Right now, the Giants have that with these promising rookies.