As Spring Training winds down and Opening Day draws nearer, Giants manager Bruce Bochy is going to have a decision to make regarding his closer situation. Now, the G Men haven’t had a reliable ninth inning guy since Santiago Casilla (circa 2015). At this point, it isn’t clear whether there is a clear frontrunner.
Over the past couple of seasons, Bochy has done his best to find the right individual to anchor the bullpen. After the bullpen’s not-so-memorable meltdown against the Cubs in the 2016 NLDS, the Giants’ then-GM Bobby Evans signed Washington’s Mark Melancon to a whopping 4-year/$62 million contract. Melancon was supposed to step in and lock down the ninth inning from day one. However, after two injury-marred seasons in San Francisco, Melancon has proven that he is hardly the best choice to serve as the team’s closer.
Melancon’s Last Two Seasons
2017: 1-2 record, 30 IP, 4.50 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, 11/16 saves
2018: 1-4 record, 39 IP, 3.23 ERA, 1.59 WHIP, 3/7 saves
Though Melancon is still under contract for two additional seasons, it’s unlikely that he’ll be considered in the early running to close games this season.
However, the Giants had a couple of stone-cold studs in their bullpen this past season, who should be at least up for consideration to close games for San Francisco. Sam Dyson, Will Smith, Tony Watson, and Reyes Moronta formed one of the most consistent back-end bullpen groups in the league in 2018. They held leads and provided the offense with ample opportunities to come back late in games, dominating hitters with nasty off-speed pitches, high-velocity fastballs, and inducing timely double-play balls. The problem may lie in how best to order this fine array of weapons, so that they can be deployed with the best chance to be successful. That being said, each one of these players has a case to get the closing job, which Bochy will have to weigh and consider.
Dyson had an incredible turnaround season, last year, following an abysmal 2017 campaign. The right-hander returned to his previous form, posting a 2.69 ERA and 1.08 WHIP in 70.1 innings. His troubling ’17 season looks like a fluke, as he was run out of Texas (traded to the Giants) after producing a ghastly 10.80 ERA and 2.58 WHIP through 17 appearances (16.2 IP), a far cry from his previous three seasons’ work:
2014: 2.14 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 42 IP
2015: 2.63 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 75.1 IP
2016: 2.43 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 38 saves, 70.1 IP
With his return to form, last season, Dyson should factor into the discussion as to who should be the next closer. If he can post anything near his 2.69 ERA and 1.08 WHIP from last year, that can translate into a healthy save percentage.
Smith is an intriguing option. The lefty missed the entire 2017 season due to injury, and had questions surrounding whether he would be able to return with the same electric stuff he had pre-injury. Well, he answered those questions with a resounding YES! Bochy and the Giants’ front office may have wished to bring the former-Brewer along slowly, but he played his way into the closer role over the second half of the season. Smith boasts excellent strikeout stuff, the ability to get timely groundballs, and the demeanor that suits “the man” to take the ball in the ninth.
2018: 2.55 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 12.06 K/9, 53 IP, 14 saves
The left-handed veteran Watson has had a stellar career, and he’s got plenty left in the tank. He works well against right and left-handed batters, which is crucial for late-inning success: 2.28 ERA (vs LH batters) versus 2.82 ERA (vs RH batters). He can possesses the ability to get timely strikeouts, great for getting out of jams and shutting down rallies. Watson has done some closing throughout his career, although he hasn’t been given the job on a permanent basis. Judging by his ’18 work, Watson would be a fine choice to take the mound in the ninth.
2018: 2.59 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 9.82 K/9, 66 IP
Finally, we’ve arrived at what should make for the most intriguing option. Reyes Moronta had an incredible rookie season in 2018, during which he posted a 2.49 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, .154 BAA, and 10.94 K/9 over 65 IP. What’s more impressive is that Moronta did so working with a simple fastball/breaking ball combo, often forcing himself to work out of trouble due to free passes (37 walks). The Dominican native is a bona fide flamethrower, frequently approaching and exceeding triple digits with his electric fastball. There is talk coming out of the Giants spring camp in Arizona, reporting that Moronta has been working on a changeup and using it in spring games. If he can develop a quality third pitch and cut down on the walks, Reyes Moronta will be the closer of the future for this club, if he isn’t given the job coming out of camp.
Whomever Bruce Bochy decides to go with, fans should feel blessed knowing that these four men represent an embarrassment of late-inning riches. Any one of these capable relievers would be closing candidates on almost any other team in the league. With Bochy’s excellent track record of handling pitching staffs and getting the most out of his guys, Giants fans should rest-assured that he will make the best decisions to ensure he maximizes his bullpen’s potential. Of course, there is always the chance that he employs the closer-by-committee strategy…