Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Could Alex Hinshaw Be A Surprise for the Giants Bullpen?

With Bob Howry gone and officially an Arizona Diamondback (Collective "Yea!" heard from Giants fans all over), the Giants are in need of another arm to hold the fort down in the bullpen. Amazingly, one of the most underrated improvements of the Giants from 2008 to 2009 was the stellar relief pitching. Brian Wilson had a career year with 38 saves and a 1.20 WHIP, Jeremy Affeldt proved to be a solid left-handed option thanks to his 1.73 ERA, and Sergio Romo mowed guys down with his 10.85 K/9 IP rate.

However, there are still some questions lingering in the Giants bullpen. While Dan Runzler proved to be sterling in a late-season callup (he posted and 11.42 K/9 IP rate in 11 games last season), there is still wide sentiment around Giants nation that Runzler might still be a year away from seriously contributing at the Major League level. The same goes with Waldis Joaquin, who put up strong strikeout rate numbers (10.13 in 10 games), but had a lackluster WHIP (1.59). Though Runzler and Joaquin have the most potential out of the Giants current relievers (other than Romo, of course), they probably should be expected to be in a Giants uniform in 2011 rather than 2010.

So, with that being known, where do the Giants go for help in terms of stacking their bullpen, and continuing the progress they made from last season? While the Giants re-signed Brandon Medders, it may be a bit lofty for Giants fans to think that he can once again put up the solid numbers he put up last year. Medders' mediocre strikeout rates, and high walk rates do not bode well for future success and Bill James and CHONE projections already are thinking pessimistically for Medders next season (BJ predicts him to have a 4.38 ERA and 1.47 WHIP; CHONE projects a 4.36 ERA and 1.44 WHIP).

With Medders out, who does that leave the Giants to have hope for in terms of the bullpen behind Wilson, Romo and Affeldt? God forbid people think it's Merkin Valdez. His 1.72 WHIP last year should be a sign for any Giants fan that has hope in him that he doesn't have it together.

How about this idea though?

Alex Hinshaw.

I know, Giants fans are asking "Who the Hell is that?"

That being said, Hinshaw might be due for a good season next year, should General Manager Brian Sabean and Manager Bruce Bochy give him a shot.

For staters, let's get one thing out of the way: Hinshaw had a terrible callup in San Francisco last season. That is for certain. His 2.83 WHIP and 12.00 ERA look awful on paper. However, it must be noted that was in nine appearances. So to come any kind of concrete judgment on Hinshaw's 2009 because of nine Major League appearances is a bit unfair.

In order to judge Hinshaw, you have to look at where he got extended time: in 2008 with the Giants, and in 2009 with Fresno.

In 2008, Hinshaw put up very good numbers. He had a 3.40 ERA, a 10.66 K/9 IP rate and hitters only hit .217 off of him. Granted, his K/BB rate wasn't good (1.62, thanks to a 6.58 walk rate) and neither was his WHIP (1.51), but overall his 2008 with the Giants was very promising for the left-handed reliever.

In 2009 with Fresno, Hinshaw improved with the Grizzlies. His strikeout rate per nine innings improved (12.38), his walk rate per nine innings dropped (5.50), and thus he sported a much better strikeout-to-walk ratio in Triple-A (2.25). Furthermore, his 1.41 WHIP was better, and he did this over the course of 52.1 IP, almost 13 more innings than his stint in San Francisco in 2008.

And, if that isn't optimistic enough, CHONE projections are actually in Hinshaw's advantage. CHONE projects Hinshaw to throw 46 innings in 2010 and post a 3.72 ERA. A lot of categories that he is strong in will go down a bit according to the projections (CHONE projects his strikeout rate to drop to 9.59, and his BB/K ratio to go down to 1.96), but there is an expectation that he will improve in some important categories, such as WHIP (CHONE projects him to have a 1.35 WHIP next season, 16 points better than his stint in 2008).

Thus, if you look at it in terms of what he has done in a short extended stint with San Francisco in 2008, what he did in Fresno last season, and the projections from CHONE, Hinshaw could be a very solid left-handed option out of the bullpen for the Giants in 2010. Granted, those CHONE Projections are just that: projections. However, he should definitely be a pitcher that Sabean and Bochy should be seriously adding into the mix for 2010 come Spring Training.

Hinshaw shouldn't be a guy whom Giants fans should be saying "Who the Hell is that?" come March. If Hinshaw continues to make progress (like I expect him to do), then Hinshaw will be making the big jump next year, much like Johnny Depp made the jump from "21 Jump Street" to Edward Scissorhands in 1990.

(Or at the very least a Richard Greico-esque jump...hey, he was in "Night at The Roxbury", right? That' a good movie).

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