Obviously, the Giants aren't remotely out of things. They're only a game-and-half back of Arizona in the NL West, and they still have that ridiculously good pitching staff that carried them to a World Series victory last year. But one key guy is missing from that staff now in closer Brian Wilson, the iconic flame-thrower with the ridiculous black beard. And for some reason, people have been getting really bent out of shape about it.
Make no mistake, the Gigantes are going to seriously miss their closer, as the guy replacing him on the roster will likely be the seventh-best reliever in the bullpen. This effect, known as bullpen chaining, assumes that the second-best pitcher will replace Wilson, with the third-best replacing the second-best and so on throughout the bullpen. That leaves you with someone utterly underwhelming like Steve Edlefsen making his MLB debut while replacing one of the game's top relief pitchers. But if any there's any key pitcher that could go down for San Francisco right now, you'd have to admit that it'd be Wilson.
Even though his numbers are down this year, the bearded beast has still managed to go 35-for-40 in save opportunities, giving the Giants a good deal of confidence whenever handing him a lead in the ninth inning. But a substantial increase in his ERA, coupled with a decrease in velocity and a substantial drop in whiff rate (the percentage of strikes thrown that are of the swing-and-miss variety), indicate that he's not nearly as dominant as he was last year during his rise to fame. He's still a good closer, but recently he was a great closer.
So, how exactly can the Giants replace Wilson down the stretch, with a bullpen that's not only missing him, but another elite pitcher in Sergio Romo as well? In an ideal situation, the Giants would've simply been able to plug in the shockingly good Romo into the closer's spot with Wilson on the mend, but without their dominant duo that role has fallen into the lap of lefty Jeremy Affeldt. Understandably, this is the part that has probably freaked some people out.
It's nothing against Affeldt, who's actually been a pretty good lefty reliever over the past few seasons; he's just never really done well in this role. Having received save opportunities with four different teams, Affeldt has converted just 25 of his 43 chances, an extremely weak 58% conversion rate. Compare that to Wilson, who's converted an exceptional 87% of his 194 save opportunities with the Giants. Presumably, people saw that Affeldt was replacing Brian Wilson and assumed the worst.
But Romo should be back soon, pushing everyone back down a slot in the bullpen. Affeldt can return to his set-up role, giving the Giants two high-quality lefties out of the bullpen given Javier Lopez's presence. And with Santiago Casilla and Ramon Ramirez churning out groundballs, the Giants continue to employ relievers that have generally thrived in San Francisco.
Most important, though, is the reality that a deep bullpen like the one the Giants have can withstand a couple weeks without its closer. Even for a team that depends on run prevention to such a large extent like San Francisco, losing Wilson realistically won't cost the team more than a win, maybe a little more in a worst-case scenario if Romo doesn't come back as quickly as expected.
Sure, the Giants probably just lost a little bit of their advantage in the ninth inning of many games. But the Giants still have good relievers. And for the other eight innings of most outings, they'll be employing significantly better pitchers than their opponents. Generally, that's the kind of advantage that wins out more often than not.