On Wednesday night, the Giants defeated the Red Sox (SF 2, BOS 1) in the least exciting way possible. Oh sure, the game itself was a blast -- as are most one-run affairs between playoff-caliber teams -- but even nonpartisan fans who tuned in to catch the final frame had sufficient reason to celebrate the end. The reason? Bruce Bochy's obsessive approach to bullpen management.
Bochy started the ninth inning with Santiago Casilla on the mound. Two batters later, Bochy pivoted to left-handed specialist Javier Lopez. After Lopez faced two batters of his own, Bochy again motioned to his bullpen, this time summoning Hunter Strickland, who would wrap up the game before another change could be made.
Three pitchers for three outs -- or the baseball equivalent of football's detested PAT-commercial-kickoff-commercial sequence. Unlike in football, where the goal is profit, in baseball there's logic to the lethargy.
If any manager knows that, it's Bochy. He's taken changing pitchers to an extreme -- to the extent that you have to believe he could've been Ralph Waldo Emerson in a past life. (And, if you think that's nuts, consider Bochy did write a book about walking.) It's no surprise, then, that the Giants have used the second-most relievers in baseball this season -- an incredible achievement, given their rotation has thrown the most innings in the National League.
Whereas many teams these days are trying to get more and more from their relievers with each appearance, the Giants are going the opposite direction. San Francisco's bullpen has averaged 2.5 outs per appearance, the lowest rate in the majors. What's more is Bochy's relievers also lead the majors in appearances consisting of fewer than three outs, and in appearances made on zero days' rest. The way of life for a Giants reliever is this: you're likely to spend more time warming up than pitching. Such is the frenzied approach that has become the Bochy and (by extension) San Francisco model.
|Team/Stat||Zero days' rest||Outs/G||G w/ < 3 Outs|
This isn't a new trend out west, either. Bochy's maniac, at-times maddening strategy has endured for years. More importantly, it's worked. Under Bochy's watch, the Giants have nurtured consistently good performances from relievers who, frankly, wouldn't be expected to pitch well on a year-to-year basis. Lest we forget, before he joined the Giants Santiago Casilla was a 28-year-old non-roster invitee; Javier Lopez was a journeyman with as many teams (four) as seasons with 50-plus appearances; and so on. Even new additions to the Giants bullpen, like Cory Gearrin and Hunter Strickland, have failed to latch on with other organizations for various reasons.
Of course, there is a catch with the current iteration of Bochy's bullpen: the group entered Thursday ranked middle of the pack in ERA (in no small part due to Vin Mazarro's implosion earlier in the way). The Giants look better through component measures, however, and there's enough of a history here to think that Bochy's wise mind and quick hook will see those numbers improve as the season progresses.
Between that inkling, and the fact that the Giants are in first place, there's no reason to expect Bochy to take fewer trips to the mound anytime soon -- even if it makes for some tedious late-game viewing.