Last year, eight different pitchers recorded saves for the Giants, led by a career-high 31 from veteran southpaw Jake McGee. Submarine specialist Tyler Rogers added 13, while flame-throwing rookie Camilo Doval took over in September.
So, who gets the ball in the ninth inning in 2022?
It’s not a closer controversy, per se, as none of the candidates are at-odds with each other and any could fulfill the role effectively. It’s more of a surplus than anything. But the question remains. And, surprisingly, there is an answer.
“Right now, if we were starting on Opening Day, Jake McGee would be our closer,” Kapler said on the Tolbert & Copes Show last Friday.
The admission came from a manager who typically keeps such distinctions close to the vest. Of course, things can change between now and Opening Day on April 8. But Kapler is putting his trust in the 35-year-old McGee.
McGee throws his fastball about 90% of the time, offering it high in the strike zone to induce whiffs and fly balls. Opposing batters hit .194 against his four-seamer last year.
Part of McGee’s appeal is that you know what you’re going to get with him. He walked just 10 batters — he faced 239 — all season. He recorded 31 saves in 36 opportunities for an 86.1% save percentage — fifth in the National League last year.
There’s a little more variance in a pitcher like Doval, who flashed electric stuff and an ice-calm demeanor in the biggest stretch of the 2021 season as a rookie. The 24-year-old assumed the closer role in September when McGee hit the injured list with an oblique strain; he tossed 14.1 scoreless innings entering the postseason. He shook off command issues, recording a 20:3 strikeout-to-walk ratio in high-leverage situations, blowing his 102-mph fastball by hitters.
This spring, Doval has thrown two scoreless innings, striking out five and hitting one batter. But Kapler openly critiqued the righty’s ability to hold runners on the base paths.
And Rogers is no slouch, either. The submariner is a master of forcing weak contact; he was in the 100th percentile in barrel rate, per Baseball Savant. He led the National League in appearances each of the past two seasons and posted a 2.22 ERA in 2021. The Giants will surely turn to him in tough situations again.
Regardless of who handles most ninth innings to start the year, the role will be subject to change. Matchups could dictate varied usage and performance will be the biggest factor in determining San Francisco’s full-time closer — if there even is one.
“I don’t think we need to, necessarily,” Kapler said of identifying firm bullpen roles. “Because what we’ve always said, and we’ll continue to say is guys take control of roles. They identify and they create those roles. They fall into those categories for a reason, because they’re successful at it. While last year, we had Rogers take down saves, McGee obviously a ton, and Doval there at the end of the year. Certainly have three good candidates to close games…But we’ve got a lot of room for our guys to kind of establish themselves in those roles and really take control of them. It’s always going to be based on performance.”
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