Well, the weekend reports only confirmed what so many had already suspected, San Francisco Giants closer Brian Wilson needs Tommy John surgery, a procedure that obviously knocks him out for the remainder of the season. And according to ESPN, manager Bruce Bochy will take a closer-by-committee approach, at least for the foreseeable future, mainly relying on right-handers Sergio Romo and Santiago Casilla and lefty Javier Lopez.
But San Francisco, unlike so many other clubs, has some depth at the major league level, a future closer waiting in the minors, and, of course, one of the best rotations in baseball.
Romo’s the best option at the major league level right now. He’s consistently posted fantastic numbers throughout his big league career; in 178 total innings prior to this season, he’s averaged 10.75 K/9 and just 1.95 BB/9. And from 2009 to 2011, his 4.4 fWAR ranked tenth among all relievers, ahead of such names including Neftali Feliz, Daniel Bard, and Ryan Madson. He should eventually earn the permanent closer’s role.
Casilla and Lopez both have their flaws.
Casilla is a solid middle relief option with middling stuff and peripherals, but has generated a solid amount of groundballs after coming to the Giants and has been dominate against righties (.225/.322/.343). And Lopez, with his submarine-style, has handled lefties (.211/.311/.310) far better than righties (.292/.378/.421). With that being said, with a second lefty in the bullpen – Jeremy Affeldt – Bochy should be able to patchwork a solid eighth inning out of these two, mixing and matching as he see fit.
Filling out the rest of the bullpen is a mishmash of moving –and interchangeable – parts.
Affeldt’s been a solid middle relief option throughout the majority of his career, pitching above replacement level each of the past five seasons. Guillermo Mota is the definition of replacement value, but has proven to be an innings-eater out of the pen, topping 50 innings for 10 straight seasons. And Clay Hensley is, well, not very good, but still won’t see crucial innings even after Wilson’s injury. And Dan Otero is a soft-tossing righty with solid command and a replacement level ceiling.
The wild card, of course, is Heath Hembree, one of the game’s best relief prospects.
Hembree, who’s scouting report can be found here, has dominated minor league competition thus far. His fastball routinely sits in the upper 90s with exceptional late life and flashes a plus slider. He breezed through two levels of competition last season – High-A and Double-A – while averaging over 13 strikeout every nine innings. His command can be spotty at times – he walked 4.2 BB/9 in 2011 – but has shown plenty of upside and is close to major league ready.
Obviously, Brian Wilson was an integral part of this team, not just the bullpen. But having another solid option – Sergio Romo – and potentially one waiting in the wings – Hembree – to go along with matchup heavy backend options like Casilla and Lopez should go a long way towards bridging the gap between the seventh and ninth innings. Oh, yeah, having a dominant rotation should help too.
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