Wednesday, May 29, 2024
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San Francisco Giants: Analyzing Team’s Recent Pitching Moves

Heading into the offseason, pitching was a clear focus for the Giants, and they have wasted little time adding depth.

Although president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi isn’t shopping at the top of the market, he has quickly lived up to his word, adding both to the rotation and the bullpen. Today, we’ll look at each of his recent acquisitions, and then wrap up by analyzing a common theme that is evident with all of them.

Matt Wisler

Photo Cred: Twins Daily

Given his reputation for shopping for bargain-basement deals, it isn’t a surprise that Zaidi’s first pitching acquisition came from a recently non-tendered player.

To be fair, many were surprised when the Twins chose to non-tender Matt Wisler, rather than tender him a contract for about $1.5 million. Worth 0.6 fWAR in 2020, he was a key part of Minnesota’s bullpen, and it is telling that he didn’t have to wait long to sign for roughly the same amount.

Wisler’s 1.07 ERA from 2020 is completely misleading, particularly with a 4.99 xFIP. However, that doesn’t mean he won’t be a quality reliever for the Giants. The 28-year-old struck out 12.43 batters per nine, which is an extension of the bat-missing improvement he demonstrated in 2019, his first year as a reliever. Thus, his 4.00 skill interactive ERA (SIERA) thinks much more highly of him.

In Minnesota, Wisler threw his slider 83.4% of the time, which is an extraordinary amount. That may have allowed him to strike more batters out, but, at the same time, his walk rate did spike. Yet, considering that he actually threw more pitches in the zone than he did in 2019, and induced a 37.9% whiff rate with said slider, it’s likely that he will continue to rely on what is elite offering. In a full season, I expect his walk rate to regress positively for him, considering his underlying pitch location metrics.

Another benefit with Wisler is his overall flexibility. As a former starter, he has the ability to pitch multiple innings, and was also used often as an opener last season. Since San Francisco is likely going to have to get creative to make up for their lack of quality rotation depth, that versatility will be critical for him.

For just $1.15 million, Wisler is an absolute bargain for the Giants. Projected for a 0.3 fWAR by Steamer projections, he’d at least be worth over $3 million in that scenario, based on how much teams pay for relievers, but I think the projections are doing him a disservice by factoring in his numbers as a starter. He is the exact type of pitcher that San Francisco is going to appreciate having in their bullpen during the dog days of the season.

Dominic Leone and Silvino Bracho

Photo Cred: STLSportsPage

Going even further into the bargain basement, Zaidi may have found some serious value in a pair of minor-league signings.

Dominic Leone pitched just 9.2 innings for the Indians in 2020, and was a below-replacement level pitcher in 2019. However, that may not be a proper reflection of who he truly is. For his career, he has posted a 3.94 xFIP and 9.64 K/9, and if the Giants got that type of pitcher, they would be ecstatic!

When in doubt, look at a pitcher’s pitch usage! Leone is an interesting case. His fastball has gotten hit around often in most years, while his cutter has bene inconsistent, to say the least. At the same time, his slider, in small sample sizes, has yielded a whiff rate over 37% in every season of his career, and as he has used it more, he actually has been able to increase his strikeout rate. Unfortunately, his walk rate has also spiked, but considering the overall volatility of relievers, that may be more statistical noise than anything to be extremely worried about.

The other reliever Zaidi brought in on a minor-league deal is Silvino Bracho. Formally of the Diamondbacks, the 28-year-old was quietly productive for Arizona between 2017 and 2018. Unfortunately, he underwent Tommy John surgery, which caused him to miss all of the 2019 season, so he has pitched a combined 1 inning over the past two seasons.

Striking out over a batter per nine in 51.2 innings between 2017 and 2018, Bracho could be a useful arm for the Giants simply if he reverts back to his pre-surgery form. Given how effective both his fastball and changeup have been, I’m guessing San Francisco will have him become a true two-pitch pitcher, which is more than acceptable as a reliever. Thus, like Leone, he may have some untapped potential.

The art of building a bullpen is to target relievers at their lowest points. Between Leone’s command issues and Bracho’s injury, Zaidi had the opportunity to add two players whose stock has decreased to the point where they may be undervalued. Both Leone and Bracho have a baseline of previous production, and most intriguingly, they likely can make some tweaks to their pitch usage to help them be even better. I would not be surprised to see both playing a role in the Giants’ bullpen this season.

Dedniel Nunez

Photo Cred: Metsmerized Online

Continuing to attempt to patch together a bullpen, Zaidi utilized the Rule 5 draft to his advantage, selecting Mets right-hander Dedniel Nunez.

As someone who is 24-years-old and hasn’t pitched above High-A, Nunez is an interesting pick for the Giants. However, his production has been strong. He posted a 27.8% strikeout rate in 2019, and also did an excellent job limiting free passes. Additionally, he did this as a starter, so San Francisco may believe he can be even better as a reliever.

According to Eric Longenhagen of Fangraphs, Nunez was among the league leaders in fastball spin rate. Thus, although he has rather average fastball velocity, the carry he has on the pitch allowed him to generate a 15% swinging strike rate. Longenhagen also noted that his velocity touched as high as 96 MPH, so in relief, it wouldn’t be a surprise for him to reach that velocity more consistently. If that is the case, he may be able to profile as a one-pitch reliever, though he also has a “two-plane curveball” to complement his rising fastball.

If Nunez pans out, the Giants will have the services of a cheap reliever throughout his pre-arbitration years. If not, they can simply send him back to the Mets for minimal cost penalty, similarly to what happened with Dany Jimenez this past season. Without trying to sound like a broken record, this is another smart acquisition by Zaidi to add bullpen depth for a cheap cost, and this is the type of selection that could help them in 2022 as much as 2021.

Anthony DeSclafani

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Earlier this month, I highlighted 15 starting pitchers with untapped potential that the Giants could go after to add stability to their starting rotation. Ironically, Zaidi signed the first player on my list!

Anthony DeSclafani will now figure into San Francisco’s starting rotation after inking a one-year, $6 million contract with the club. Simply put, I have a hard time imagining him not being worth that investment. For his career, the 30-year-old has posted a 4.11 xFIP. If he does that over 160 innings or so, they’ll be looking at a two-win pitcher, which would more than be worth $6 million.

So, why was DeSclafani available for a low price? It all stems from his rough 2020 campaign, in which he was a below-replacement level pitcher and saw his strikeout and walk rates worsen significantly. However, his 9.6% swinging strike rate is right on par from his typical numbers, so this appears to be more of a command issue. Well, if there is one thing that you could expect a pitcher suffer from in a strange 2020 season, it is inconsistent command, and in a short sample size, I’m guessing that his increased walk rate isn’t a indication of the pitcher he is. Remember, this is a pitcher with a career 2.65 BB/9.

DeSclafani has two distinct breaking balls that are both effective, yet he threw his fastball 58.8% of the time. His 26th percentile fastball spin rate, in addition to the poor results he has had from that pitch, mean that he should certainly throw it less, and I’d guess the Giants have a similar strategy in mind. Additionally, the lack of separation between his slider and curveball caused his curveball to be significantly less useful of a pitch, so going back to throwing his slider harder, more like a cutter, also would be beneficial.

With multiple two-win seasons between 2017 and 2019, DeSclafani’s median projection would certainly peg him to make good on San Francisco’s investment. However, there isn’t any reason to see why he won’t revert back to his peak form as a pitcher capable of posting sub 4.00 xFIPs and posting strong K-BB ratios, especially if the Giants have him go back to throwing his slider like a cutter and lean on the fastball less. Add in the fact that pitching at Oracle Park, rather than Cincinnati, should have an extremely positive effect on his home run rates, and it sure looks like Zaidi has found an absolute gem on the open market.

For a combined $8 million or so, Zaidi has taken the first step towards significantly boosting the Giants pitching staff. Wisler is a flexible piece with an elite slider, and assuming his walk rate regresses positively, he’ll be one of the top options for manager Gabe Kapler. Meanwhile, Bracho and Leone each have performed in the past, and have the talent, particularly with an altered pitch mix, to stick with San Francisco for the season on minor-league deals.

To add onto that, Nunez possesses excellent vertical fastball characteristics and a curveball to pair with it, which ought to translate well for him as a reliever. If he pans out, the Giants will be able to benefit from three cheap pre-arbitration seasons from him, so he certainly could play a role for the team when they are truly to contend.

The icing on the cake, however, is DeSclafani. Just based on his track record alone, he certainly is worth $6 million. Furthermore, his 2020 struggles appear to be connected to a small sample size and strange circumstances, rather than any alarming issues, and there are a multitude of reasons to believe he can go back to being a mid two-win pitcher, or perhaps even better if his home run rates come down pitching in San Francisco.

What do all of these acquisitions have in common? While other teams may be focused on either cutting costs or shopping at the top of the market, Zaidi is using his resources to find value. Given how thin the Giants are as a pitching staff, this is an extremely smart strategy. There is certainly room for San Francisco to add multiple starting pitchers, with them expressing interest in Jake Odorizzi and Tomoyuki Sugano, as well as Jon Lester. As for their bullpen, they are rightfully committed to not spending big to improve their bullpen, but I’d expect them to take more flyers on relievers whose stocks have been deflated, particularly since so many right-handed relievers were recently non-tendered.

This is just the beginning for Zaidi, who still has a significant amount of resources to help improve the organization’s overall pitching depth. The Giants have found great value in the pitching market since he took over as the team’s president of baseball operations, and for a third straight offseason, I am comfortable saying that he has kept that trending going. They say that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and few executives take that to heart as much as he does. If he can keep this up, perhaps San Francisco can make a serious run at contending for a playoff spot in 2021, which sets them up nicely to make good on their hopes to be an impact team by 2022 or 2023.

Stats via Fangraphs and Baseball Savant