It has been well noted that the San Francisco Giants bullpen has struggled this year, but there have been some bright spots such as Hunter Strickland, Santiago Casilla, and especially Derek Law. Those three have combined for 138 innings with a 2.71 ERA and 2.84 FIP. The club has improved as they sit at 14th in ERA and 10th in FIP. They also added Will Smith and found a good core of five or six relievers to ride the rest of the way.
Law, 25, first impressed the Giants’ brass and fans in 2014 during spring training but didn’t make the big league club. He ended up going for Tommy John surgery that June and didn’t throw off a mound until March of 2015. He was able to throw 25 innings that season at Double-A with a 4.56 ERA, but also a 2.22 FIP. He wouldn’t get the call to the majors until after three innings pitched at Triple-A in 2016 and he never looked bad. Law showed the Giants’ rival what he had in his debut as he struck out three batters at Dodger Stadium.
The funky right-hander has 45.2 innings pitched this season with a 1.97 RA/9, 1.93 FIP, 43 strikeouts, six walks, and just one home run allowed. Among 176 relievers with at least 30 innings pitched, he ranks 17th in fWAR and sixth in FIP. With his impressive numbers, he recently took over as a setup guy with San Francisco, as a rookie. He leads the club in most categories including RE24, WPA, ERA-, FIP-, xFIP-, FIP, ERA, RA/9 and xFIP. He doesn’t lead in saves, but that doesn’t mean anything.
According to PITCHf/x pitch values per 100 pitches, Law’s best pitch has been his fastball. Even without an overpowering fastball, he is able to locate and use it along with his other three pitches to make hitters off balance. He can pump it up to 96 miles per hour, but his average is 93 this season. He struck out Jung Ho Kang with a 95 mph fastball (with some cut).
Law has a starter’s repertoire — he throws his slider and curve over 20 percent of the time and changeup just under five percent. He struck out Howie Kendrick with a nasty curve in his major league debut. PITCHf/x says the curve has been his worst pitch this season, and it was also the pitch he gave up his only home run with.
It doesn’t stop there. He throws his changeup 12 percent of the time to lefties, and it works. Not only does he have a better wOBA (.210) versus lefties than righties (.247), but he hasn’t walked a single one in 64 tries. With runners on, he got Matt Joyce to chase an 84 mph change-up in the dirt.
With Statcast readily available now on Baseball Savant, we can see that Law ranks in the top third of average exit velocity leaders (88 MPH). Over the course of the season, he has stayed at average or below the average exit velocity, which is promising.
His average exit velocity would be even lower if his curveball wasn’t weighing it down at 92 MPH. He has been throwing his curve more to lefties (25 percent) than righties (17 percent), which could be why that pitch isn’t as effective. The only home run he has give up this year was to Freddie Freeman on a 75 MPH curveball. You see that right here. Here’s another chart from Baseball Savant that shows 3/4 of his pitches have been near elite:
Even though keeping the ball down isn’t necessarily better than pitching up in the zone, Law has stayed on the lower half of the plate, which is a reason why he’s getting 50 percent groundballs so far.
Yes, it has only been 45 innings and 177 batters, but with Law’s location, movement, and velocity, he looks to have a bright future as a reliever. If he can improve his curveball and maybe throw it less to lefties he might even improve as a pitcher. He isn’t striking out a batter per inning, but he’s close and it’s impressive that his walk rate is 3.4 percent (with league average being 9 percent). For now, the Giants look to have a controllable reliever who can get both lefties and righties out at an impressive rate.