Last night, the Giants took a 1-0 lead over the Dodgers into the 9th inning. They lost anyway. At this point, the team’s lead-blowing prowess has become so well known that it wasn’t even really a surprise, and the last week has cemented the tire-fire status of the team’s relief corps. They gave up two in the ninth to lose by one last night. They gave up two in the ninth to lose by one on Saturday. They gave up five in the ninth to lose by one last Tuesday. In the last seven days, the Giants bullpen has handed over three should-win games with three outs to go, and as a result, the Giants are now six games back in the NL West race, and tied with the Cardinals for the second Wild Card spot.
Those words make it sound bad, but I thought some graphs might more adequately represent the disaster that was the Giants bullpen over the last week.
This is a scatter plot of shutdowns and meltdowns, a couple of relief pitcher metrics we track here on FanGraphs. A shutdown is any relief appearance where the team’s win probability goes up by at least six percentage points during the outing, and a meltdown is an appearance where it goes down by at least six percentage points. The standard ratio of shutdowns to meltdowns is a little under 2:1, though for high leverage relievers, they usually earn those roles because they do much better than that.
As the graph shows, the Giants ratio last week was 1:7. They had the fewest shutdowns in MLB and the most meltdowns. Their bullpen essentially only pitched well when the game wasn’t really on the line, and then was a total disaster if the game was close.
So let’s look at the league’s relievers total Win Probability Added last week, or in the Giants case, Win Probability Lost.
I probably didn’t have to highlight the Giants line there; you likely would have known it was them even without the assistance. They racked up nearly -2.0 WPA last week, which is astonishingly bad for a seven day stretch.
Let’s finish up with a table. Here is how hitters performed against various Giants relievers in high leverage situations over the last week, thanks to our handy new splits tool.
That isn’t so much closer by committee as it is a Jonestown Massacre reenactment. Bruce Bochy has taken a good amount of flak for his bullpen management in the second half of the season — especially his loyalty to Casilla — but no one could look good managing a group of pitchers who did that.
The Giants still have a chance to turn this around and make the playoffs, but they’re going to need their bullpen to pull it together. Like tonight.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.
The Giants have an incredible 8 blown saves so far in September, and one might conclude from this that their bullpen has been terrible. But in fact their ERA for the month is 3.18, 14th out of 30 teams, a little above average. Cory Gearrin, who was the best reliever (though not the closer) during the team’s hot streak in June before he got injured, has been totally dominant in September–6 IP, no runs, 55% strikeouts, 5% walks, 12.5% line drives, 0.0% walks. He’s been absolutely awesome, completely unhittable, but Bochy for some reason refuses to use him in high-leverage situations. Will Smith, after a shaky start after being acquired at the trade deadline, has also been great in September–4.1 innings, no runs, and George Kontos, who has team’s second lowest ERA this year at 2.28, has given up no runs in 4.1 innings in September, but Bochy has refused to use either of them in save situations. Instead he has veered between Casilla (ERA 8.44) and Strickland (ERA 11.57) as the closer, and not only has he insisted on using them in save situations, he has done this with no backup and so has had to turn to untested rookies when they failed. This disaster is Bochy’s responsibility.
Gearrin allowed the walkoff hit on 9/1.
Okay but that was 19 days and 7 blown saves by other pitchers ago, it’s the only hit he’s given up in September, and it was a real cheapo (also it wasn’t a walkoff). It’s not like the other relievers have the situation under control.
good thing they have chemistry though