The San Francisco Giants signed relief pitcher Jake McGee to a very reasonable two-year, $7 million contract on Tuesday, February 9th. McGee is a left-handed pitcher and will help to offset the loss of Tony Watson, who is now a free agent. The addition of McGee also balances out the 2021 Giants bullpen from a righty-lefty standpoint.
Jake McGee as a Potential Closer
More than any of the other relievers on the Giants’ roster, McGee has experience closing games. In 2014 he had 19 saves, plus another 15 in 2016. Since the 2017 season, McGee has been used more in a late-inning set up role. Nevertheless, he is the best candidate to close games if the Giants decide to abandon the closer-by-committee approach that failed last season.
The Giants may also try Reyes Moronta in the closer role. However, he is coming off labrum surgery to his throwing shoulder that cost him the entire 2020 season. In addition, even when healthy, Moronta has shown a tendency to lose his command and be quite hittable when he pitches on the second or third consecutive day. The Giants would be foolish to expect Moronta to be an every-day closer.
In 2020, McGee was a valuable member of the Los Angeles Dodgers‘ bullpen. He threw 20 1/3 innings, allowed only 14 hits, with an ERA of 2.66 and an outstanding WHIP of 0.836. His 11:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio jumps off the page, as McGee had 33 strikeouts against only three walks. If he can come anywhere near his 2020 performance, the Giants have a gem.
Adding McGee also subtracts from the Dodgers and anytime the Giants can do that is a big plus. In addition, the Dodgers also lost Dylan Floro and Pedro Baez this offseason, two more relievers who contributed to their World Series title.
Closer By Committee
In 2020, manager Gabe Kapler opted to use a committee approach. He tried to create favorable match-ups and use who he felt had the hot hand. This strategy failed and the Giants blew several ninth inning leads. Losing games the Giants should have won ultimately cost them a playoff berth, as they missed the playoffs by a single game.
In 2020, the Giants did not have a proven closer. They tried Trevor Gott, Tony Watson, Sam Coonrod and Tyler Rogers at various times during the season. None of these pitchers seized the job and what made matters worse, Gott and Coonrod actually imploded. Rogers, Gott and Coonrod accounted for seven blown saves last year. Heading into the 2021 season, both Watson and Coonrod are no longer on the roster.
Looking at the 2021 season, it is possible, in fact probable, that the Giants will again try the match-up based committee approach. Kapler does a very good job keeping his players motivated, but he has not shown a great adeptness with in-game managerial decisions or with managing a bullpen.
Look for Moronta, McGee, Rogers, Gott and newly acquired Matt Wisler to all get an opportunity to close games at various times of the year. It didn’t work in 2020 and there is no guarantee that 2021 is any different. This brings to mind Albert Einstein’s famous quote, “insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”
Relief Pitching Could Make or Break the Giants’ Season
It will be imperative for the Giants to have quality relief pitching to have any chance of making the playoffs in 2021. The relievers will undoubtedly be called on early and often this season.
The upcoming season will see the roster expand to 26 players. This likely guarantees that the Giants will carry eight relief pitchers and they will all be used liberally. Adding McGee certainly helps bring quality bullpen depth & lengthens out the relief corps.
Weak Starting Pitching Will Crush the Bullpen
The Giants’ starting pitching is quite suspect and there are question marks with every starter. In a 60-game season in 2020, Kevin Gausman had a brief period of arm soreness. Can he be counted on to make at least 30 starts in 2021? Johnny Cueto had the highest ERA of his career at 5.40. He averaged less that 5 1/3 innings per start. At age 35, has age caught up to him and will he decline further? Can Anthony DeSclafani bounce back from the worst year of his career? Can Alex Wood stay healthy? Will Logan Webb or Tyler Beede gain consistency or will they continue to be maddeningly inconsistent?
Whenever the starting pitching staff has this many question marks, they will not all be answered positively. Barring the acquisition of another solid starter, the lack of quality depth in the rotation will undoubtedly tax the bullpen.
In 2020, the Giants had 11 quality starts in 60 games. A quality start is when the starting pitcher goes at least six full innings and allows no more that three earned runs. The Giants’ starting pitchers usually left games earlier than six full innings or gave up in excess of three earned runs.
Looking ahead to the 2021 Giants season, only Gausman appears capable of achieving quality starts with any regularity. This tendency, if it bears out, will overwork the bullpen and spell trouble for the Giants. If the starters cannot go deeper into games, adding McGee and Wisler, along with a healthy Moronta, still won’t be enough.
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