It should surprise no one familiar with this site when I say that we haven’t been blogging much; not counting writing done for other sites, I haven’t written an original article for over seven months. To break my blogging fast, I couldn’t decide if I wanted to recap the offseason, or analyze the contracts to Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez.
I started to do the latter, but five minutes in, I realized they were pretty much the same because, really, there wasn’t much else. A few trades, minor hopeful improvements to the offense, some weight loss, nothing big. What was more surprising were the contracts to lefty relievers Affeldt ($5 million) and Lopez (2 years, $8.5 million).
After the Giants front office had publicly claimed poverty when it came to bolstering the offense, the contracts to the two certainly seemed excessive. But assuming that Brian Sabean doesn’t act completely randomly in a drug-induced vacuum, it’s worth taking a look at the factors that went into this decision.
It all depends on how you look at the offseason. Plenty of fans had hoped for the management to go on a spending spree to spruce up the offense, leading the way for Prince Fielder to lead a World Series Parade down Market Street next November. To that crew, seeing the front office blow so much money on relief pitching was certainly a disappointment. But that offensive spending spree was never realistically going to happen, and the Brass knew it from the beginning. Affeldt and Lopez’s deals are only surprising when you expect massive changes; when you expect a stand-pat offseason, they make total sense.
Also, Sabean shed a little light on the need to bolster the bullpen recently, pointing to Brian Wilson’s “crash and burn” at the end of 2011 as a reason to keep reliable relievers. To people who say that the Giants overpaid for Lopez and Affeldt, that’s not obvious either. There’s very little to compare the actual numbers against this year, as the only other left-handed relief pitchers to sign for any substantial amount of money were Darren Oliver ($4.5 million) and Tsuyoshi Wada (2 years, $8.15 million), and Wada will probably be a starter anyway. The Mariners are taking a gamble with Hong-Chih Kuo, which I kind of like, but he’s still an unknown quantity after his awful 2011 season. If Bruce Bochy really has lost faith in Brian Wilson’s health or effectiveness, we could see a lot of 9th-inning bullpen matchups, so having solid lefties in the ‘pen could be fantastic.
The bullpen also affects the pitching rotation. If you’ve already got a team that can’t score runs, and you’ve basically conceded any hope of having an above-average offense, you know you’re basically going to have a lot of one- and two-run games. If you’re trying to convince Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain that they look better in Orange and Black than in pinstripes, a bullpen collapse is something you want to avoid. If you’re willing to overpay for a lefty reliever, you’d probably rather overpay for the two guys who helped you win a World Series, and then stayed solid.
So call it what you will. Daniel Kahneman would probably call it the Availability Heuristic. There’s nothing saying that Affeldt and Lopez were the best deals on the market, but I have more faith in them, having seen them myself. I’m willing to overpay for Affeldt’s curveball just because I can more readily recall images of it than say, for example, the fact that Darren Oliver was drafted when I was one year old. Javier Lopez struck out Joey Votto that one time, and that was pretty awesome.
Because also, Affeldt and Lopez are really very good. Lopez is a true LOOGY, but actually faced more righties than lefties last year. He dominated lefties, holding them to a ridiculous .163/.245/.185 last year. He had control issues against righties, allowing 17 walks and a .393 OBP, but he was still an effective reliever, and ended up holding righties to about the same OPS as Roy Oswalt. Even when he gave up hits, he simply did not allow hitters to make solid contact. He didn’t allow a home run the whole year, the only Giants pitcher not to do so aside from Dan Runzler and Waldis Joaquin (Lopez had 53 IP, to Runzler’s 27.1 and Joaquin’s 6.1), and Lopez gave up just 10 extra-base hits (nine doubles, one triple) in 222 plate appearances.
Affeldt was even more brutal against lefty hitters, but cut down all opposing hitters like so many frozen hamburger patties; in the second half he held opposing hitters – not just lefties – to .154/.267/.256, with just five extra-base hits in 92 plate appearances. Affeldt’s excellent season numbers – 61.2 IP, 2.63 ERA, 1.151 WHIP – don’t even show how ridiculously dominant he was in the second half, when he had a 1.21 ERA and 0.985 WHIP in 22.1 IP.
So when I really think about it, I’m okay with the contracts. Re-signing relievers is hardly the sexy blockbuster we were not-so-secretly hoping for, but I think they were defensible moves, and the Giants are better off for them.