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Giants' 'bang-for-your-buck' bullpen has been key to success originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea
When the Giants were in St. Louis over the weekend, the TV cameras caught the relievers holding a meeting early in a game. They were a long way from being needed, so the broadcast crew spent some time trying to figure out what they could have been discussing. Were they strategizing? Going over scouting reports? Checking in on the health of arms?
Well, perhaps they were simply just talking about phalanges.
That seems to be a popular word down there, and it's one right-hander Zack Littell dropped into his postgame Zoom session three times -- which has to be a Zoom record -- as he discussed the group's effort in a 7-2 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers and general mindset.
"We know the situation, and when we need to be ready we've got our phalanges stretched out and all that," Littell said. "We're just ready to get after it."
That doesn't quite have the kind of "Next man up" ring to it that can become a rallying cry for a winning team, but Littell did reveal another motto the bullpen has discussed recently. This one has a lot to do with the winning ways of the Giants.
"We joke down there that we probably have the most bang-for-your-buck bullpen in the entire league," he said. "We have a lot of fun. It's a great group of guys that all really mesh well together. It's just fun to be a part of."
It's not uncommon for modern front offices to shy away from paying for saves, and this group -- led by Farhan Zaidi and Scott Harris -- is at least partly in place at Oracle Park because the four-year contract the previous regime gave to Mark Melancon turned out to be such an anchor. But the Giants have gone beyond just avoiding the high end of the closer market. Check out how the bang-for-your-buck group was built:
Closer Jake McGee: Signed in February to a two-year, $5 million deal that includes performance bonuses. It's easily the biggest contract in the bullpen.
Setup man Tyler Rogers: The only homegrown member, he pitched four seasons in Triple-A before getting his shot. He's not arbitration-eligible until 2023
Right-hander Dominic Leone: Signed to a minor league deal in December, he started the season in Triple-A and didn't make his Giants debut until June 1. He has a 1.29 ERA.
Left-hander Jarlin Garcia: Claimed off waivers just before spring training in 2020 after Miami decided to part ways with Jarlin the Marlin. He got $950,000 as an arb-eligible pitcher last winter. He has a 1.78 ERA since coming off the IL in early May.
Right-hander Zack Littell: Signed to a minor league deal in February. He was a bit of a surprise omission on opening day but was called up at the end of April and has a 2.87 ERA.
Right-hander John Brebbia: Signed a one-year, $800,000 deal in December after the Cardinals let him go while he rehabbed from Tommy John surgery. He has been a bit inconsistent since coming back, but he's just 13 months removed from TJ, so the Giants expect much better days ahead.
Left-hander Jose Alvarez: Signed to a one-year, $1.15 million deal March 6. He has held the opponent scoreless in 14 of last 15 appearances.
Right-hander Jay Jackson: The latest addition, he signed a minor league deal in January after mostly pitching in Japan since 2016. He was hurt to start the year but dominated once he got to Triple-A and has three scoreless appearances since getting called up last week.
It truly is a bang-for-your-buck group, and there were a lot of growing pains as the Giants waited for it to come together. Others with similar stories got a shot, and the Giants tried some of their hard-throwing prospects in April. After a couple of rough months, the bullpen turned a corner in June, posting an MLB-best 1.99 ERA. In July, the group ranks seventh at 3.23. Add it up and you have a 2.39 ERA since June 1, the lowest in baseball.
Zittell said it's a group full of guys who want the ball, but not in an overly intense way.
"It's just a really laid-back group of guys," he said. "You've got Jake as kind of the veteran leader of the group, and the example he sets is very just cool, calm and collected all the time. It's really easy to feed off that energy."
It's working, and while the Giants could certainly add at the deadline, they feel comfortable with the guys they have. The bargain bin approach -- Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen makes more than the entire Giants bullpen -- has helped keep the Giants in first place. It's even working elsewhere with guys who could have been part of the mix.
Matt Wisler signed a cheap deal in the offseason but the Giants eventually wanted to look at the other right-handers they had as Wisler struggled. He clearly was a worthwhile gamble though, and he has allowed just one earned run in 14 appearances in Tampa Bay.
Jimmie Sherfy was one of many non-roster invitees added over the offseason and pitched for the Giants 10 times before he was DFA'd. The Dodgers claimed him and he threw 1 1/3 scoreless innings on Monday, even getting an at-bat against Littell. Sherfy sawed his bat into pieces while grounding out.
"I bet his phalanges were probably hurting a little bit after that swing," Littell said. "Hopefully his phalanges are alright."