Jackie Robinson Day is a tradition celebrated and recognized by all MLB clubs every season in April. This year’s night game highlighted a dream showdown of legendary aces as the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw faced the San Francisco Giants’ Madison Bumgarner to a vibrant pastel-colored sky as only Chavez Ravine in Los Angeles provides.
The Giants lost that game, but won in the long-term through discovering the bullpen asset organizations dream of in this era of baseball. It was a game Giants‘ fans and Bumgarner would love to forget at first. After giving up two homers to Enrique Hernandez, Bumgarner was yanked after allowing four earned runs and seven total.
In the seventh inning, the Giants watched their rookie of the year, Derek Law, flourish in his opening role with his new team. Tall and confident. the Pittsburgh native stood deep in enemy territory, and with a spit, followed by a raise of the right hand to tip and adjust his hat, the young rookie’s face said it all, “I’ve got this.”
Even allowing a triple to Justin Turner in a game that seemed to continue spiraling, wasn’t enough, as he halted adversity by striking out the side to escape the jam. As he notched his third strikeout, he chippered back with the Dodgers’ side, instantly making his name known in the rivalry.
Dudes in it for life.
Lets not forget, this was a kid making his major league debut, on one of the biggest nights in MLB’s regular season, on national television, against the team Jackie Robinson played for, against the Giants’ bitter rival, and in their house. Absolutely zero pressure.
He gave fans a sneak peak into the asset the Giants were about to possess all season. Law concluded his season going 4-2, with a 2.13 ERA, and 0.96 WHIP, while pitching in 55 innings over 61 appearances. He amassed 50 strikeouts over that span and held opponents to a minuscule .215 average.
Law excelled facing both righties and lefties, posting a .188 average against lefties and a .232 against righties. His 1.1 WAR led all Giants’ relievers, while dominating hitters with four different pitches: fastball, slider, changeup, and a devastating curveball.
wCU/C measures how many runs hitters score per 100 curveballs thrown and is an excellent tool to see just how valuable this pitch really is for Giants’ Law.
His curveball is one of the filthiest pitches in baseball and the numbers support that notion. His wCU/C is an astounding -0.63. Let’s compare that to Clayton Kershaw, who is considered to have the best, if not one of the best curveballs in the game and his wCU/C is 1.68. This is just for comparison, and Law is a reliever, not a starter, but it does illustrate that his curve is special.
Taking a look at closers who share similar samples for fair evaluation, Mark Melancon’s 2.22 can’t touch “The Law.” Compare that out-pitch to Andrew Miller’s slider, another elite closer’s out pitch, and his wSL/C is at 1.83. Even Zach Britton and his most untouchable pitch, also a slider, fail to match Law with a wSL/C of 0.20.
Law still has much to prove in his career, but the numbers have to be inspiring for the fans, the organization, and his confidence.
It’s easy to see why he induces 27.8 percent of swings from outside of the strike zone and carries a LOB% of 82 percent. It’s not just the curveball. His fastball averaged 92.9 miles per hour and touches 97, but his changeup has been the difference.
Truly, he has been able to keep hitters off balance through the changeup, as he dazzled posting a wCH/C of 0.59. Not too far off of another bullpen star, Aroldis Chapman, who posted a wCH/C of 0.5. That assortment of pitches aided the rookie to a stellar summer.
In July and August, Law threw 22 innings, while only allowing 12 hits, one earned run, and striking out 18. He kept hitters guessing, and mixed pitches efficiently, while establishing the confidence needed in himself, and his manager, that this was no fluke. He forced his way into the eighth-inning role and earned every pitch of it.
When Giants’ pitchers aren’t missing bats, they’re hopefully inducing ground balls and allowing the elite-defense playing behind them do their thing. Law stuck to the game plan, forcing a GB% of 50 percent from batters faced.
Law even succeeds when the ball takes flight, as he only has a HRFB% of seven, while posting a HR/9 of 0.49 out of 214 opponents. His ERA-, with a score of 54 is not far from another elite bullpen option, Kenley Jansen, who posted a solid 46. 100 is considered the league average, with above 100 being below league average.
He has also shown poise in tough situational moments for the Giants. With runners in scoring position, he limited opponents to a .184 average in 10.1 innings pitched. His lowest percentage of hard contact was actually given up with runners in scoring position, according to FanGraphs. Law even nailed down the first save of his career this season, his one and only coming against the Milwaukee Brewers.
Derek Law was without question rookie of the year for the Giants and his status in the bullpen has well been secured for next season. An honorable mention has to be given to Trevor Brown, who handled the pitching staff impressively, and broke up a Dodgers' no-hitter with one of the more memorable go-ahead homers this season. He'll have more chances to do that next season as well.
San Francisco will go into this offseason prioritizing finding an elite ninth-inning option, but if they strike out on the open market, it may not matter that much. With a curveball that produces no runs for the opponent, a changeup that compares with the game’s most feared reliever, and continued stinginess for opponents with runners in scoring position only batting .184 and slugging .211, Giants’ fans should be extremely optimistic about the ninth-inning next season.