SF Giants Closer: Romo Replacements
Last week, the spotlight was on the Dodgers bullpen blowing chances to catch the Giants. Since then, however, the NL West leaders have lost eight of ten. While Los Angeles has pulled within four games, Sergio Romo, the SF Giants closer, has exploded for seven earned runs and eight hits in his last three outings. The Giants’ bullpen has been excellent this season, but the closer situation is deteriorating. It’s time to consider replacements for the pending free agent.
Giants’ relievers have posted a mediocre 1.0 WAR (16th overall) due to low strikeout totals (27th in K/9). However, the bullpen limits walks (1st in BB/9), pitches to contact (T-3rd for GB%) and keeps the ball in the yard (4th in HR/9). The results are impressive: they have the second most wins (17), third most saves (24) and a top-5 FIP (3.19). As a unit they have been highly effective…until the ninth inning.
Sergio Romo has floundered and has the worst WAR (-0.5), highest HR/9 (1.59) and worst FIP (4.76) in the Giants’ pen. He’s also had bad luck, posting a 65.4% strand rate, .225 BABIP and 15.6% HR/FB rates. His strikeout and walk rates have trended negatively four years straight. The velocity is still in tact, but his slider has been less effective (his Pitch F/X pitch value has dropped from 11.7 in 2013 to -0.1 in 2014). In his free agent year, the Giants will be inclined to let him walk given other available options.
Jean Machi, RHP, age 32
Who is this guy? The 32-year old journeyman has put up stellar numbers this season (0.6 WAR), and is next in line for saves if Romo continues to sputter. Among relievers (min. 30 IP) he has the best ERA, top-8 ground ball rate and top-18 walk rate. Since 2013 he’s posted a top-12 FIP, top-16 ground ball percentage and top-20 K/BB ratio. He doesn’t pile up the strikeouts (career 7.71 K/9), but impeccable control (1.98 BB/9) and limiting home runs (0.4 HR/9) have offset the lack of whiffs. He won’t continue to post a 96% strand rate or a .213 BABIP, but current success merits ninth-inning consideration.
Heath Hembree, RHP, age 25 (Triple-A, Fresno)
Based on limited Pitch F/X data (seven innings pitched), Hembree has a fastball which touches 95 MPH and a mid-80s slider. On paper, it’s closer stuff. Between triple-A and a brief stint with the Giants, the young right-hander posted a 12.17 K/9, 2.5 BB/9 and a 53% ground ball rate. Al Skorupa from Bullpen Banter saw a “lights out relief ace” in 2012, and after spending the last two seasons closing in triple-A, he has nothing left to prove at the minor league level. The former 5th-round pick has legitimate strikeout potential and is on speed dial if the Giants call.
Raymond Black, RHP, age 23 (Low-A, Augusta)
When asked about closer options in San Francisco, Mike Newman touted Black’s 100 MPH fastball as a sleeper candidate few have heard of. 23 years old is typically old for Single-A, but a 17.5 K/9 against a 2.7 BB/9 (14.1 IP) is impossible to ignore given Black’s elite velocity. Shoulder surgery has limited his advancement, but with triple-digit heat and mid-80s slider, the right hander will speed through the system. Health and command permitting, Black will be an elite SF Giants closer in the future.
Converting A Top-100 Prospect
Kyle Crick, RHP, age 21 (double-A, Richmond)
In the 2014 Eastern League preview, Jeff Reese had this to say about Crick:
Kyle Crick is a physically imposing right-hander with a power arsenal. After dominating the SAL, the top-100 prospect moved on to the hitter friendly California League and Crick’s numbers improved across the board, highlighted by his 95 strikeouts in just 68 2/3 innings. The walk rate remains high and command needs more refinement. The raw stuff makes him a must see.
In 2013 Mike Newman threw out a Zack Wheeler comp after seeing Crick, but noted command and consistency remain obstacles to his development. This season, Crick’s strikeout rate has plummeted over 25% with an ugly 6.1 BB/9. If he cannot harness his stuff, Crick’s fastball-slider combo will play up in the pen.
Who’s the Next SF Giants Closer?
With Romo set to test the free agent market next season it’s time to consider other closer options in San Francisco. After the All-star break, fantasy owners need to shop the veteran closer. Machi is not a long-term option, so all eyes will be on Hembree. However, minor-league closers rarely have successful MLB careers in the ninth inning. The play here is two-fold: pick up Ray Black for nothing before the competition gets wise and target Crick while his value is down. His floor as the next SF Giants closer is a valuable asset in deep dynasty leagues. Don’t sleep on future MLB closers as ROTOscouting will continue to pioneer low-budget options for ninth-inning duties.
23 Jun 2014 / Joseph Pytleski /
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