Bobby Evans kicked himself daily after failing to trade for an elite closer at the August 1 deadline, calling himself a knucklehead in the process to Jon Heyman. He has a chance to heal those wounds this offseason, but the bandages will be costly.
San Francisco blew 32 blown saves this season. If the Giants hope to avoid this meltdown from occurring again, signings or trades need to be made to ensure the club has a secure, proven, and consistent ninth-inning option.
The Giants will be looking for a closer who possesses high velocity, induces groundballs, misses bats, has a high save conversion rate, good variation of pitches and gives up soft contact. Three huge names are hitting the free agent market including Aroldis Chapman of the Cubs, Mark Melancon of the Nationals, and Kenley Jansen of the Dodgers.
The best fit for the Giants to sign out of all options would be Mark Melancon--yes the guy Giants should have pulled the trigger on at the trade deadline. Sure, Chapman may have the highest K/9 (13.97), lowest ERA (1.55), and tied for highest save percentage (92%) of all free agents, but his price tag will be expensive, and he also has character questions which may not fit the Giants clubhouse culture.
Jansen would be a viable option as well and would additionally weaken a divisional competitor by snatching the archrival Dodgers' closer away. Similar to the Giants, the Dodgers closer blew seven saves, which was second behind Casilla's nine.
Melancon by far stands out among the suitors and fits all their needs. He pitched for two teams to the tune of a 2-2 record, while recording an ERA of 1.64, converting 47 of 51 saves and striking out 65 in 71.1 innings pitched. His 92 percent save conversion was tied for first out of the available options and helped contribute to his 1.8 WAR.
Melancon led all three closers with the highest GB% at 54.2 percent, which is all a pitcher could want when you have Brandon Crawford, Joe Panik, and Brandon Belt defending, all top defenders at their positions. The Giants also play many one-run games and Melancon had the lowest HR/9 (0.30) rate out of any option, further strengthening his case of securing leads.
Melancon only gives up fly balls 25.3 percent of the time, which will lead to outs at spacious AT&T Park, and only 6.3 percent of those fly balls ended up being homeruns.
San Francisco loves pitchers who have an arsenal of pitches to work with. Melancon possesses four pitches he can throw anytime: fastball, cutter, curveball and changeup. He averaged 92.8 mph on his fastball this season and sits 92-95. His pitch breakdown is 74 percent fastball/cutter mix and a 26 percent curveball/changeup.
Four different pitches in one-inning is plenty to ponder for hitters, and the variation of speeds and pitch offerings show evidence that it’s confusing hitters and paying off. He owns the softest exit velocity off contact of any available closer at 30.2 percent of contact made. That has led to an opponent average of just .202 and a LOB% of 80.6 percent. He strands the runners that somehow find ways to get on.
He is performing far above the league average according to ERA-, which has him at 50 (100 being average). Mix that with an outstanding WHIP of 0.90 and he’s one of the best closers in the game.
His teammates can’t say enough about him either. Complementing his poise and the competitor he is in the game’s biggest moments during the ninth inning. Something the Giants prayed for all year and particularly at the deadline.
“Mark is as steady as they come,” second baseman Neil Walker admitted. “We like to say he and Tony Watson have ice in their veins, and when you’re working the eighth and ninth innings, you have to have that type of mentality.”
San Francisco should also look to cling to their identity of finding overlooked talent and turning them into successful big league contributors. Last season’s move was bringing in Cory Gearrin, who was one of the most reliable options out of the bullpen in the first half.
Ryan Sherriff, 26, is a LH reliever in the Cardinals organization who would serve as just the type of under-the-radar move the Giants could make and see huge return on as soon as this season. He’s ready for the show and the numbers support that notion.
Sherriff was promoted to AAA in 2015 where he has continued to flourish in his role this season. He was the most used reliever on the team, pitching in 49 games posting a stellar 7-1 record, 2.84 ERA, with 55 strikeouts in 66.2 innings pitched and held lefties to an absurd 0.69 ERA in 26 innings faced.
Sherriff is a workhorse who led the team in appearances and it’s easy to see through his numbers why he is leaned on heavily. He’s a gym rat who mixes in extreme competitive belief in him, with his plus fastball, which sits at 92-94 and tops at 95, while mixing in a devastating slider to go along with his sinker and changeup.
Sounds awfully like the Jeremy Affeldt hole they’ve been desperately trying to fill, but haven’t, since his retirement.
Sherriff’s efforts have not gone completely unrecognized, as he was named the organization's high A affiliate Palm Beach Pitcher of the Year in consecutive seasons in 2012 and 2013. Even more impressive is the recognition he has maintained while ascending through the minors. Sherriff was named to the AAA All-Star game and was untouched in a scoreless effort in relief when given his opportunity. Additionally he was awarded Memphis Redbirds AAA Reliever of the Year, and he probably had that locked up after May as he dominated AAA’s hottest hitting prospects to a 2-0 record with a stingy 1.73 ERA in 26 innings.
Throw in a HR/9 of 0.54 and a pitcher who carries an solid LOB% of 74.3 percent, and it’s easy to see him continue flourishing under the watch of Dave Righetti and Bruce Bochy.
Most surprising is that he’s not even a top 30 prospect in the Cardinals organization, even after all the accolades, and year after year of posting outstanding numbers through all levels of the minors. With his low and overlooked prospect ranking, this could be a trade the Giants could pull off for offering a B level prospect and turning Sherriff into a reliable option for postseason chases of the future.
Whatever the Giants decide to do, it’s evident the bullpen must be retooled, especially in the ninth inning. The Giants cannot sit on the sidelines and wait to “feel out” the free agency market as it develops like in past seasons. They should establish that market themselves rather than risk the Yankees or Cubs establishing it through a Chapman signing.
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Bobby Evans has inflicted quite the wound after kicking himself daily the past few months. Those wounds will continue to bleed out for him, unless he buys the expensive bandages needed to finally seal the hole.