Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The San Francisco Giants Sign Jeremy Affeldt and the City Is Speechless

San Francisco fans can rejoice. The hometown Giants have solved all their woes by bringing in...drum roll please...Jeremy Affeldt!

***crickets chirping***

In all seriousness, I like the move because it was cheap. Getting a left-handed reliever for two years at an average of $4 million per year isn't too shabby. If Affeldt works out, great. If he doesn't $4 mil ain't gonna break the bank.

Additionally, my biggest truck with relievers is that they are so inconsistent.

Yet Affeldt has largely bucked that bugaboo for the last two years in the National League. He's turned in an earned run average around 3.50 and sported a stellar walk to strikeout ratio. In my opinion, the most important statistic for a middle reliever is K:BB so there is reason to be optimistic since that's been one of Jeremy's strongest stats his whole career.

Most importantly though, the move would indicate that the Orange and Black will not be going through a major overhaul nor will management be throwing insane and foolish money after the likes of Manny Ramirez or Adam Dunn. The former was never likely, but the latter was a distinct possibility.

Both would have been mistakes.

Instead, it looks like Brian Sabean will be taking the approach for which most Giants' fans were rooting i.e. make a couple tweaks to the bullpen and corner positions, then roll the dice behind a strong youth movement.

That's good news.

As for shoring up the bullpen, I got curious as to how big of an issue it really was. I went back and looked at all the box scores for SF this past year. If the bullpen took over a lead or a game where the boys were trailing by less than four runs, I deemed its performance relevant to the topic. If the 'pen blew the lead or let the deficit balloon beyond that which was entrusted to it, I counted it as a failure. I did so even if the Gents ultimately retook the lead.

Lastly, I excluded Brian Wilson's performance. That is to say, if he blew it or was a problem, I did not count it as a bullpen failure since management is focusing on upgrading the middle relief.

Obviously, this isn't a perfect stat. It doesn't capture games in which the relievers let a big lead get trimmed, but never slip away. It doesn't capture losses where they entered trailing by four or more and let the lead get bigger. It doesn't capture games in which the middle relievers turned a romp into a save situation that Wilson ultimately blew.

And there are probably other scenarios I'm forgetting.

However, it does give a pretty good though rough idea of how many times the bullpen failed to do its primary job: enter winnable ballgames and hold the line by either protecting the lead or keeping the deficit from growing.

Like I said, it's not perfect in that regard. But it's as close as I'm gonna get until I get paid for this.

In San Francisco's 90 losses in 2008, the Giants bullpen failed its primary responsibility 50 times. The bullpen entered the game with a lead or less than a four run deficit FIFTY TIMES and either surrendered it or let the game get out of hand.

In San Francisco's 72 wins, the bullpen surrendered the lead three times only to have the Giants recover in time to win the game.

So, in 2008, the San Francisco Giants bullpen was a relevant vulnerability in 53 of 158 games (the starters threw four complete games). Ugh. That's a pretty gnarly problem.

In those 53 implosions, Jack Taschner and/or Alex Hinshaw figured in the demise a total of 17 times (including two of the three games that the 'pen blew, but SF ultimately won). That means the resident lefties had a hand in almost a third of the failures. Double ugh.

When viewed through that lens, the possible significance of another fine season from Affeldt could be actually quite profound. Such a presence would presumably improve the Giants' ability to compete in its division.

But a good season from Affeldt would have value even if the Giants fail to stay above water. Regardless of the team's overall success, a more reliable 'pen would help the youngsters develop. The extra confidence in the firemen would allow the young guns to relax and explore the margins of pitching more thoroughly. Neither the pitcher nor the young position players would have to face the psyche-crushing frustration of a blown lead, a missed opportunity for that elusive W.

No, Jeremy Affeldt isn't going to turn any team into a championship favorite overnight with the stroke of his left arm.

But that criticism is irrelevant if such is not your goal. And the World Series isn't San Fransisco's goal. The Giants' sights are considerably more conservatively set on getting better.

And Jeremy Affeldt should help them do just that.

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