San Francisco Giants Experiencing Changing of the Guard in Bullpen


For years, the San Francisco Giants‘ bullpen has been dominated by the “Core Four”, a group of veteran relief pitchers who have shut the door on close games day after day, and were instrumental in all three of the team’s World Series runs. The four pitchers, Jeremy Affeldt, Santiago Casilla, Javier Lopez, and Sergio Romo, have been the unsung heroes in numerous Giants’ wins.

But this season, it’s been a different story for the Giants’ bullpen. Romo and Affeldt have struggled, leaving a void in the Giants’ bullpen. Entering 2015, Romo owned a career 2.51 ERA and 0.927 WHIP in over 400 games. In 37 games this season, Romo has a 5.19 ERA and 1.346 WHIP, and he’s just not the lock-down reliever that he was.

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The sentiment is much the same with Affeldt. In his first six seasons with the Giants, Affeldt posted a 2.76 ERA and 1.253 WHIP in 362 games. He is even one game shy of tying Mariano Rivera‘s record of 23 consecutive scoreless appearances in the postseason. But in 2015, Affeldt’s ERA and WHIP have both ballooned, up to 5.96 and 1.809, respectively.

Casilla, the closer, hasn’t struggled as badly as Affeldt and Casilla, but he has had his share of downfalls. Casilla entered this year with the fourth lowest ERA among relief pitchers since 2010 (minimum 200 innings) at 2.10. This season, Casilla started the year extremely well, but has had a few rough weeks, and sits with a 3.16 ERA and 1.372 WHIP.

Lopez, on the other hand, just seems to be getting better with age. He turned 38 years old on Saturday, but is enjoying possibly his finest season yet. His 1.88 ERA is in line to be the second-lowest output of his career, and his 0.750 WHIP would be the best number he’s ever posted.

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Outside of the Core Four, Jean Machi has also been very unreliable. His inconsistencies with his forkball have been remarkable. Entering this year, Machi had a career 2.71 ERA and 1.024 WHIP, but those numbers have been dwarfed by 2015’s 4.98 ERA and 1.456 WHIP.

As players struggle, other players have been given opportunities and have run with them. The youth movement has begun in the Giants’ bullpen.

George Kontos has been the leader of the revolution. He’s not exactly young, at 30 years old, but he’s fresh blood in the late innings. Kontos is in his fifth season, but this is his first as a consistent bullpen piece with a big role. He’s already appeared in 42 games, 10 shy of his career-high set in 2013.

This year, Kontos is dripping with confidence, and it shows when he takes the mound. He leads the Giants’ staff with a 1.67 ERA, 6.3 hits allowed per nine innings, and one walk per nine innings. He’s second on the team with a 0.814 WHIP, and 5.2 strikeouts per walk. Kontos has stranded all 25 runners he has inherited, cleaning up every mess the team puts him in. He’s not the everyday seventh or eighth-inning pitcher, but he owns a very large role in the bullpen.

Hunter Strickland, a rookie, has been a big part of the Giants’ youth movement. After being called up in late-May and becoming the eighth man in the bullpen, he has steadily earned a bigger role by pitching well consistently. He owns a 2.18 ERA, 1.113 WHIP, and 5.2 K/BB rate, and has stranded seven out of eight inherited runners so far this year. Strickland is widely seen as the Giants’ closer of the future, and he looks the part so far this year.

Jun 3, 2015; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants relief pitcher Hunter Strickland (60) pitches the ball against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the eighth inning at AT&T Park. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

The newest addition to the bullpen is Josh Osich, and he fits the youth movement bill. In just five outings, he has earned manager Bruce Bochy‘s trust, and has begun to pitch in bigger, more high-leverage situations. He hasn’t allowed a hit or run yet, and has allowed just two walks in four innings.

If the struggles from the veterans continue, Strickland or Osich could take on even bigger roles as the Giants continue to trend more towards the youngsters.

The youth movement may not be done yet either. The Giants still have a couple of young relievers waiting in the wings down in the minor league system. Derek Law, the Double-A Flying Squirrels’ closer, has been consistently excellent in the system, although he has struggled some this year since returning from Tommy John surgery. Cody Hall and Steven Okert are in Triple-A, and are close to being ready if a need arises for the Giants.

It’s not crazy to think the Giants could have a completely different bullpen when next year rolls around. We’re already getting a preview as to what that could be like.

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