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SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Re-signed RHRP Sergio Romo to a two-year, $15 million deal. [12/17]
Re-signed RHSP Jake Peavy to a two-year, $24 million deal [12/19]

When the Giants won the 2010 World Series, general manager Brian Sabean began building a reputation for taking care of his own. Put differently, he became known for bringing the band back together.

That offseason, Aubrey Huff re-signed. Then Pat Burrell re-signed. Then Guillermo Mota re-signed. And suddenly, the 2011 club looked a lot like the 2010 champions.

Two years later, the Giants won the World Series again. That offseason, Jeremy Affeldt re-signed. Angel Pagan re-signed. Marco Scutaro re-signed. And the 2013 club strongly resembled the 2012 champs.

Two more years passed, and the Giants backed into the playoffs, upset the Nationals, knocked off the Cardinals, and outlasted the Royals to win their third World Series in five seasons. But then a funny thing happened: Two key members of the championship team left town.

When the Red Sox snatched away Pablo Sandoval, Sabean emerged from his shell and did all he could to wreck plans of a reunion between Jon Lester and Boston or Lester and his former GM, Theo Epstein. But the Giants, with no such sentimental connection to the lefty, came up short and moved on to Plan C.

What’s Plan C? You get one guess at the first steps therein.

Sabean’s first major-league move of the offseason was re-upping with Sergio Romo, a member of all three pennant winners, as setup man in 2010, setup man-turned-closer in 2012, and closer-turned-setup man in 2014. He got a year less than fellow slider specialist Luke Gregerson (three years, $18 million from the Astros) but $1.5 million more in annual salary. A modest overpay? Maybe—but the Giants take care of their own.

Romo was a gopher-ball machine early last season, and his fifth blown save—a two-run meltdown capped by a long ball by Brandon Phillips—was the last straw for manager Bruce Bochy. Santiago Casilla took over for Romo in the ninth inning. Not long after that, vintage Romo—at least statistically speaking—returned.

Pitch selection might offer a partial explanation. In an effort to become a better-rounded reliever, Romo set out in spring training to learn a changeup with which to combat left-handed batters.

It was a fine idea, and while the pitch was as erratic as you might expect a nascent offering to be, the changeup was never Romo’s undoing. Instead—perhaps in part because his focus was spread across three pitches—he stopped commanding the no-dot slider on which his career hinges.

Five homers off the Frisbee later, Romo lost his job as closer.

As a setup man deployed by a manager who makes matchup-driven bullpen decisions, Romo could relax his usage of the changeup, as he did from July onward. He threw fewer cambios and more sliders, and soon the latter was as good as new.

The chart to the left shows Romo’s slider locations between the start of the regular season and the aforementioned blown save on June 28th; the one on the right does the same for outings on or after June 29th. Following the demotion to setup work, Romo slipped up a couple of times, serving up hangers that cleared the fence, but the mistakes became increasingly rare. He also racked up a 29-to-1 K:BB ratio with the breaking ball despite throwing it more often than his fastball in three-ball counts.

Whether the Giants will come to regret retaining Romo depends on his ability to rein in the gopher balls, which in turn depends on his slider command, which at least has recency bias going for it. Sabean has quietly engineered one of the league’s pricier bullpens—not because any one member enjoys extravagant earnings, but because there are no cost-controlled arms in high-leverage roles. Romo ($7.5 million), Affeldt ($6 million), Casilla ($5 million), and Lopez ($4 million) are joined by the much cheaper Jean Machi and Hunter Strickland, the latter of whom had his own share of gopher-ball woes in the postseason, which may have driven Sabean to keep Romo.

***

All those relievers, who proved as reliable in the World Series as Kansas City’s vaunted crew, are important because the starting rotation behind Bumgarner is one big question mark.

Matt Cain is recovering from surgeries to remove bone chips from his elbow and ankle. Tim Hudson battled hip soreness and wore down by October. Yusmeiro Petit was an extraordinarily pleasant surprise, but how he’ll fare in a full season of big-league starting work is anyone’s guess. And Tim Lincecum was 1.2 wins below replacement level last year, so the $18 million invested in him is a sunk cost on which any returns are gravy.

Peavy’s addition held the group together in the wake of Cain’s injury and Lincecum’s demotion, all the way up to Game Six of the World Series, when he unraveled early and failed to complete the second inning. He left his homer-prone ways in Boston to make beautiful music on the mound—2.17 ERA, 58-to-17 K:BB, three taters against in 78 2/3 innings to wrap up the regular season in San Francisco—and in hotel stairwells, with third-base coach Tim Flannery who retired earlier this offseason.

The reunion with Bochy and Co. made Peavy, now 33 and on the downslope of his career, happier than ever. It’s no surprise that he wanted to return. And given the doubts surrounding the back end of the rotation, it’s no surprise that the Giants wanted him back.

Peavy can still get his skipper through the order twice:

Opp’s PA

AVG

OBP

SLG

K:BB

1st

.229

.290

.372

2.74

2nd

.224

.276

.373

3.18

3rd

.323

.387

.545

1.82

After that, all bets are off.

Five or six innings of two- or three-run work are adequate from a back-end starter: The team stands a good chance of emerging victorious provided the bullpen can hold the line. And the Giants now have two pitchers whose intra-game performance arcs are as similar as their contracts. Here are the same splits for Hudson, who signed for $23 million over two years last winter:

Opp’s PA

AVG

OBP

SLG

K:BB

1st

.259

.298

.367

3.33

2nd

.258

.294

.369

3.64

3rd

.303

.339

.495

3.27

Both will frequently require a small army of relievers to navigate the middle and late innings, and that’s where employing a deep, somewhat expensive bullpen comes in. The re-signings of Romo and Peavy make more sense when considered together than they do when viewed apart.

But they fit into the same plan, whose first facet is a familiar one: bring the band back together. And now, Sabean can turn his attention back to replacing the key members—Sandoval and Michael Morse—who chose to depart.

Fantasy Impact

Jake Peavy

The move to San Francisco certainly seemed to agree with Peavy last summer. Despite logging only 78 innings in 12 starts after the trade, he still generated $11 worth of NL-only value to make a run at full-season top-60 value. Taken in a vacuum, the two halves of his 2014 season probably amount to the most extreme fifth percentiles he’s capable of on each end of the spectrum, and yet the full-season statline he produced last year actually looks about right: 200 innings, a 3.75 ERA, a 1.28 WHIP, and seven strikeouts per nine. It’s worth noting that the current version of Peavy has a very definite cap on his effectiveness in a given start. After holding hitters to a combined .655 OPS through two turns of the lineup, Peavy got knocked around to the tune of a .323/.387/.545 line against in his third time through the lineup. And while nearly everything else in his profile improved post-trade, that tendency did not. His potential to rack up wins is thus more limited than most. Despite that standard format handicap he’ll enter 2015 as a fair bet to return sturdy mid-rotation value in NL-only leagues, and he’ll be exactly the kind of boring veteran afterthought in mixed-league drafts that helps stabilize the back end of rotations far and wide. —Wilson Karaman

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