Not so long ago--no, make that ages ago, before pitchers and catchers started arriving for spring training--I spent some time speculating about who would make the cut on the 25 man roster. I noted that
If one of the right-handed relievers flames out (we're looking at you, Hensley), I'd imagine that they'd give a shot to Steve Edlefsen, on the premise that his last few weeks in the 2011 season were an exhaustion-ridden outlier, and not the curse of the Runzler.
That final phrase seemed to write itself, which is a good reason to wonder about its accuracy. If there's such a curse, it refers to home-grown relievers who have a season in which they don't pitch to (what is hopefully) their full potential. While the Giants have committed to LHPs Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez for 2012, there is good reason to think that Dan Runzler will be in the Giants' organization for several more years, especially because he's 26, he won't be eligible for arbitration until 2014, and won't be a free agent until 2017. That thought isn't so inspiring if we focus on the negative trends in his career numbers, the ERA(+), H/9 and SO/9:
Year W L ERA G IP H R ER HR BB SO BF ERA+ WHIP H/9 BB/9 SO/9 2009 0 0 1.04 11 8.2 6 1 1 1 5 11 38 429 1.269 6.2 5.2 11.4 2010 3 0 3.03 41 32.2 29 12 11 1 20 37 144 130 1.500 8.0 5.5 10.2 2011 1 2 6.26 31 27.1 29 21 19 0 16 25 120 58 1.646 9.5 5.3 8.2 3 Yrs 4 2 4.06 83 68.2 64 34 31 2 41 73 302 95 1.529 8.4 5.4 9.6
Nevertheless, I'd like to think that 2011 is an outlier. Putting aside the part about Giants' fans (myself included) having unrealistic expectations regarding pitching, 2010 was a decent season, while it's very difficult to think "caveat: small sample" looking at his 1.04 ERA in 2009 (note that his minor-league season ERA was 0.76 in 59 innings from A to AAA).
Then, today, Andrew Baggerly (at his new job) brings news that Runzler has been working with Dave Righetti to hone his delivery. At this point, much of what we read is characterized by reassuring fans that all hell hasn't broken loose in camp, but it's good to hear that Righetti has identified the problem with Runzler's mechanics, and they are working on it. After Baggs characterizes Runzler's delivery as "herky jerky," Righetti responds:
“Go with that,” Righetti said. “With him, it is an issue and it has been. He got to the big leagues throwing more sidearm with a slurvy breaking ball. But it got away from him. He had trouble going through lineups, seeing hitters second time around, and blah blah blah. So we’ve tried to smooth him out. He’s leading with his front arm, which is a big key.”
The proof of their success comes, of course, when Runzler takes the mound during a game:
“I get so excited,” Runzler said. “My emotions take over and it’s like I cannot wait to deliver the pitch. I end up overanxious to throw and I go too fast. Now I’m working on getting my front shoulder out there more. It works. The ball comes out really well and the command is a lot better when you’re smooth. I feel this is something I can repeat.”
Given that he is a long shot for 2012 after Affeldt and Lopez, Runzler is focused on improving his game:
“Every rep counts,” he said. “Fix it in one pitch instead of three pitches. That’s what you have to do in a game, so you might as well do it that way on the side. I’m really concentrating on that mental part of the game.”
I'd be remiss if I didn't spend some time searching through Runzler's splits and looking for good numbers to cherry-pick. Despite whatever problems he's had over the past two years, he doesn't have them at AT&T park. From 2009 to 2011, he has posted some pretty ridiculous numbers during home games, allowing only one earned run in 29.2 innings pitched:
Perhaps Runzler can pioneer the "hometown specialist" role.