So far, this year, it has been an up and down season for the Giants bullpen. Some guys have gotten off to good starts, but have imploded on some big moments (e.g. Brian Wilson and Sergio Romo). Some guys have been a shell of who they were last season (e.g. Brandon Medders and Jeremy Affeldt). And some guys...well...they have been pretty good (e.g. Dan Runzler and Guillermo Mota).
Overall, I deeply believe the Giants have the best bullpen in the National League West...though not statistically at the present moment. They are behind Colorado (second) and San Diego (third) in terms of team bullpen ERA in the Majors (Colorado has a 2.58 ERA; San Diego sports a 2.65 ERA), but the Giants are not that far behind considering how early it is in the season (the Giants are seventh and have a bullpen ERA of 3.20).
Lost in the shuffle though of the Romos, Wilsons and Affeldts in the bullpen however is Waldis Joaquin.
For those who don't know, Joaquin was recently optioned to Triple-A Fresno after Aaron Rowand returned off his stint on the 15-day disabled list.
It makes sense from a Giants management perspective. Wilson, Romo, Mota, Runzler, Affeldt and Medders are way ahead of Joaquin in terms of standing in the bullpen, and Joaquin hasn't really lived up to his potential either this season.
In 4.2 IP, Joaquin sports a 9.64 ERA, a 2.79 WHIP and has allowed six hits and seven walks. To make matters worse, Joaquin, a flamethrower who averaged 96.2 MPH last year and 94.4 MPH on his fastball this year, hasn't struck out many batters. After striking out 12 batters in 10 IP in a short callup in 2009, Joaquin has only managed to punch out two batters.
Those numbers have produced god awful K/9 and BB/K ratios (3.86 and 0.29, respectively) which makes most sabermetrics and baseball fans shudder.
And what makes things worse? His stats eerily look similar to another "hard-throwing pitcher with command-problems reliever" from last year: Alex Hinshaw.
After a solid 2008 season with the Giants where he appeared in 48 games and posted an ERA of 3.40 and a K/9 of 10.66, Hinshaw absolutely struggled in short action with the Giants bullpen in 2009. Hinshaw gave up 10 hits and allowed 8 runs and 7 walks in 6 IP.
With already a solid staff in the Giants' 2009 bullpen, it came as no surprise why Hinshaw spent the majority of the season in Fresno (he pitched 46 games for the Grizzlies).
Could the same happen to Joaquin in 2010?
It is possible. Hitters have found a tremendously easy ability to find a hit against Joaquin, as evidenced by his .350 BABIP this season. Hinshaw suffered through the same problem in his nine appearances in 2009. His BABIP was .349.
However, while they share similar strand rates (Joaquin has a 57.1 percent strand rate so far; Hinshaw had a 63.4 percent strand rate), there is something that Joaquin is better at doing than Hinshaw: inducing groundballs.
Hinshaw is not a groundball pitcher. In his two stints in San Francisco, Hinshaw posted GB/FB rates of 0.48 and 0.58. What makes this ratio even worse is that when hitters hit fly balls against Hinshaw, they have made them count. The past two seasons, Hinshaw's HR/FB rate has been 10 percent (2008) and 16.7 percent (2009).
This doesn't seem to be the problem with Joaquin. Last year, Joaquin posted a GB/FB ratio of 3.60. This year? That ratio had improved to 5.00. Granted, Joaquin has allowed more line drives this season than Hinshaw did in 2009 (25 percent to 17.4 percent), but hitters haven't made Joaquin pay too badly when it comes to fly balls this year (Joaquin hasn't given up a homer this year, and he only allowed one last year).
Thus, that is why I am more optimistic that Joaquin can bounce back after a short tenure with the Grizzlies than Hinshaw (and I don't necessarily hate Hinshaw either). Look at the game logs for 2010 for Joaquin and 2009 for Hinshaw. Joaquin looks much better than Hinshaw, and in the grand scheme of things, Joaquin wasn't all that terrible. What really sealed the deal (e.g. being demoted) for Joaquin was the April 16th opener against the Dodgers. Check out his pitch F/X for that game:
What did all that wildness produce? Four walks, two hits, two earned runs in two innings pitched. Yikes. That is about as good as Josh Hartnett's performance in the "Black Dahlia."
Granted, his performance against the Braves (1.2 IP, two walks, two hits, three runs allowed) was pretty bad too. But it was only two performances. Is Joaquin capable of having bad performances like the ones against Los Angeles and Atlanta? Sure, but he is also capable of having solid performances, like his debut against the Astros on April 6th (12 strikes thrown, 4 balls thrown, 0.2 IP, 1 strikeout).
Is Joaquin entering that "Promising for a bit, but now falling back to earth" phase that Hinshaw drudged through in 2009? Perhaps, but I don't believe Giants fans should throw in the towel and say "Joaquin is the next Merkin Valdez!" just yet.
I think Joaquin making the Opening Day roster was a premature decision by general manager Brian Sabean (he has only pitched 10 innings at the Triple-A level). With some more experience and tuning of his command in Fresno (he has only thrown 45.3 percent of his pitches for strikes this year) , I don't think it's out of the question to see Joaquin back up my August, ready to contribute to the Giants bullpen once again.