On Wednesday, the Giants inked reliever Jeremy Affeldt to a two-year, $9.5 million extension, according to USA Today baseball writer Bob Nightengale.
On paper, it makes sense. Affeldt, the Giants' left-handed setup man was effective for the Giants in 2009. He posted a 1.74 ERA and finished the 2009 season atop of the Major Leagues in holds (along with Minnesota Twins reliever Matt Guerrier) with 33. Thus, if you look at it from most Giants fans' perspectives, Brian Sabean made a good deal, right?
Well, yes and no. Is Affeldt a valuable commodity in the bullpen? Absolutely. Veteran relievers should not be taken lightly, especially considering this bullpen, for the most part is pretty green when it comes to Major League experience. Affeldt provides a mentor figurehead to the bullpen, much like Randy Johnson was a mentor to the young starting rotation last season.
That being said, the fact of the matter is this: two-years, $9.5 million. Is Affeldt worth that? Did his 2009 season merit those dollar amounts?
In my opinion, no. (His WAR (Wins Above Replacement) values agree with me too.)
I'll give a few reasons why Affeldt shouldn't have been inked for a two-year extension.
1.) His numbers in 2009 weren't that good.
Certainly Affeldt was lauded by Giants fans and media members alike, but in many ways, Affeldt's 2009 may have actually been worse than his 2008 in Cincinnati. Case in point. In 2009, Affeldt's strikeout rate dropped from 9.19 in 2008 to 7.94 in 2009. In all likelihood, Affeldt's 2008 (and even 2009 to an extent) K/9 numbers may have been an aberration. He had never posted a K/9 rate higher than 7.76 in his Major League career prior to 2008 (and that 7.76 strikeout rate was in 2002, his rookie year). So, while it was a drop, his K/9 rate isn't too alarming (though it's not comforting).
What should make Giants fans worry the most though were his struggles with control in 2009.
Yes, Affeldt did struggle with control in 2009. His walk rate increased dramatically (from 2.87 to 4.48) and his K/BB ratio also declined (from a solid 3.20 to a below-league average 1.77). Affeldt also had a first-strike percentage of 54.8 percent, which is almost four points below the league average, and his lowest percentage since 2006 (when he split duty between Kansas City and Colorado).
And, while Affeldt did make 74 appearances in 2009, he only pitched 62.1 innings, a sign that he gets pulled early way too often. Now that could mean a variety of things. Either manager Bruce Bochy isn't patient enough with him (which is partially true) or Affeldt isn't getting the job done in his appearances.
Most likely it's a combination of both factors, but if you had to ask me which one factors more, I might be inclined to say the latter.
2.) Affeldt was tremendously fortunate in 2009.
Like I said, most Giants fans will point to two stats to merit Affeldt's extension: ERA and WHIP. Yes, he had a sub-two ERA. Yes, he had a WHIP of 1.17.
However, I will counter with three stats: FIP, BABIP, LOB percentage.
Affeldt's FIP (fielding independent pitching on an ERA scale) was 3.59, his BABIP (batting average of balls put in play) was .244 and his LOB (left-on-base) percentage was 86.4 percent. The league averages in those respective categories are 4.32, .303 and 71.9 percent.
So what does that say? Affeldt got extremely lucky in 2009. You cannot sustain a BABIP that low for consistent seasons. You cannot sustain a LOB percentage that high for two seasons. Eventually, your luck is going to run out and the law of averages is going to present itself, which is most likely going to be the case in 2010.
Another stat that most likely was an aberration? His 3.52 GB/FB ratio (compounded by a 65 percent groundball rate). Affeldt has only posted a GB/FB ratio higher than 2 once (in 2005 with the Kansas City Royals). Granted, he has shown a progression to being a more groundball-inducing pitcher (his GB/FB ratio increased from 1.50 in 2006 to 1.97 in 2008), but I find it highly unlikely that he'll have a GB/FB ratio that high again in 2010.
Does that mean Affeldt is going to be a bad pitcher in 2010? No, but he isn't going to be the borderline All-Star people made him out to be in 2009 again. He just won't get that many breaks two seasons in a row.
3.) The Giants have enough good options in the bullpen as it is.
I'm not saying Affeldt should be released tomorrow. However, I don't see why Sabean couldn't have just let Affeldt finish out the year, let him continue to mentor guys, and let the torch be passed to guys like Sergio Romo and Dan Runzler in 2011. Romo proved he could pitch as a late innings reliever in 2009. Runzler has showed this Spring that he is ready for the Major League level. And, I'm not even counting wild-card options such as Guillermo Mota, Alex Hinshaw, Waldis Joaquin, Kevin Pucetas, and Henry Sosa, pitchers who could have a surprise impact in the bullpen in 2010 ala Justin Miller or Brandon Medders in 2009.
It's a tough reality, but it has to be known: Affeldt is not needed in this Giants bullpen like before when the Giants signed him to a two-year deal after the 2008 season.
At the most, Affeldt is needed for one more year, but instead, the Giants have him for two, maybe three more seasons. Granted, could Affeldt bring in some trade value should the Giants fall out of playoff contention this season and they put him on the trading block? Maybe. His contract isn't bad and teams always need arms.
However, if his numbers fall back to earth (which they most likely will), I wonder how much return the Giants could get on the left-handed setup man.
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