COMMENTARY | When Brian Wilson went down with an elbow injury last April, it made sense to think the San Francisco Giants' bullpen would suffer as a result. Wilson had been the rock the Giants counted on at the end of the game, the best closer the team had seen since Robb Nen. Without him, the Giants needed someone from their pool of relievers to step up and fill Wilson's bright orange shoes.
Though a number of relievers ended up recording saves for the Giants in 2012, the closer's job eventually went to Sergio Romo. He didn't disappoint, posting a career-high 14 saves last season to go with a sparkling 1.79 ERA. Romo was nearly unhittable in the postseason, allowing only a single earned run in 10 appearances while also saving three of the Giants' four World Series wins. He was so dominant in his late-season run as closer that most Giants fans assumed he'd have the same job once the 2013 season began.
The Giants, though, don't seem ready to anoint Romo as their full-time closer just yet. While he'll likely get a number of save opportunities in 2013, the Giants seem intent on using a committee of pitchers along with Romo to close games instead of letting Romo take the job and run with it. And while the Giants' bullpen is rich in talented relievers, the team would be better served letting Romo assume the closer's role- he's clearly the best option.
Romo has been one of the most under-appreciated pitchers in all of baseball the past few years, and before he became a closer last year one could make a reasonable case that he was the top set-up man in the game. Over the past two seasons Romo has walked 15 batters combined ; for his career, Romo has walked 48 batters in 233.1 IP while striking out 277, giving him a career strikeout-to-walk ratio of 5.77. That's an incredible number for a pitcher like Romo, who doesn't have an overpowering fastball to blow by hitters. Instead, Romo uses an arsenal of breaking pitches, including a lethal slider, to get batters out.
Romo definitely has the tools to be the closer, and last year he proved that he has what it takes mentally as well. If there is such a thing as a "closer's mentality," the 2012 season proved that Romo has it in spades. He faced numerous high-pressure situations, like Game 5 of the NLDS in Cincinnati where he faced down the heart of the Reds' order with the season on the line, and came through in each of them. He completely baffled the powerful Detroit lineup in the World Series, famously freezing Miguel Cabrera with a fastball for the last out of the clinching game. Romo didn't falter in tense situations, he flourished.
The Giants do have other options to close games in pitchers like Santiago Casilla, Jeremy Affeldt and George Kontos, but Romo is still clearly the best option. Casilla faltered in an extended audition as the team's closer last year and is better served in a set-up role. Affeldt is more valuable as a late inning match up guy, since he has the ability to get both lefties and righties out with regularity. And Kontos, who doesn't yet have a full Major League season under his belt, is the most effective middle innings reliever the Giants have.
The only question about Romo that has to be discussed is his durability. He's battled elbow and knee problems in the past, and hasn't been subjected to a typical closer's workload in his career. It remains to be seen whether or not he can handle pitching in multiple games in a row, and whether or not his elbow can stand up to the multiple breaking pitches he'll be throwing with an increased workload.
Still, Romo should get the chance to prove he can handle the load. While the Giants may be taking the cautious approach with his health, Romo deserves the opportunity to show he can stay healthy and be effective as the team's everyday closer.
The Giants' closer shouldn't be "Sergio Romo and committee." It should be Sergio Romo, period. He's earned it.
Dave Tobener has written about the San Francisco Giants for the better part of a decade. You can find him on Twitter: @gggiants