Young bullpen arm was a casualty of the Giants unexpected success in 2021
25 games, 23.0 innings, 1.57 ERA, 4.30 FIP, 16 strikeouts, 12 walks, 1.348 WHIP
2021 was an odd one for Caleb Baragar because of how odd the 2021 season was for the San Francisco Giants.*
*Odd in Baragar’s context is not ideal. Odd in the Giants context is ideal.
Back in February, when the Giants were booked as a 70-something win team, Baragar was teased as a potential starter (or a back-up option if someone in the starting five struggled). This season was going to be an opportunity to develop the Giants’ younger players, give them some valuable big league experience, essentially throw them against the wall to see what stuck.
Baragar, who flashed good stuff in 2020, was going to fill out his resume and benefit from the franchise’s off year.
He never got that chance to throw out the first pitch, but was a familiar face for the Giants out of the bullpen in the first two months of the season.
The fastball-reliant lefty saw time in the middle to late innings, often brought in to bridge the gap between starter and the 8th and 9th inning guys. He was not the go-to for high-leverage situations but his pitching, for the most part, preserved the Giants lead or kept them in the game. He picked up some holds, bagged a couple wins, and earned two saves in three opportunities over the year.
May was Baragar’s best month. He pitched in 13 games, completed 12 total innings and allowed only one run—a lead-off triple to Adam Frazier in the 11th, who scored on a walk-off sacrifice fly to Gregory Polanco on May 14th. Baragar bounced back from the start and didn’t give up an earned run for the rest of the month.
April and May ended up being Baragar’s whole season. He went on the 10-day IL with elbow inflammation on May 29th and spent the rest of the summer in quadruple-A ball, racking up miles on interstate 80 between China Basin and Sacramento.
Baragar’s lack of use post-injury is directly correlated to the gradual realization that the 2021 Giants were the real deal.
As winning the division became more and more of a possibility—while the Dodgers constantly nipped at their heels—winning games became even more valuable and innings within those games grew in importance. There was no such thing as a “low-leverage situation” in August and September for San Francisco. There could be no relaxing, no letting up for the Giants bullpen (just ask Tyler Rogers). The pedal had to be through the floor all the way to game 162, thus Baragar’s star in the bullpen game plan sank.
Half of the reason is that 2021 was Baragar’s second year in the big leagues and had (and still has) minor league options. Baragar could get put on the Capital-Direct bus and sent to Sacramento without having to be put on waivers. Other bullpeners, like José Álvarez or Jarlin Garcia, didn’t have that flexibility.
The other half of the reason, which is also probably more like 92% of the reason, is that Baragar just didn’t do a good job of keeping runners off base.
His WHIP jumped from sub-1.00 in 2020 to 1.35 in 2021. Counting hit batsmen, he handed out free bags as much as he bagged strikeouts.
His expected ERA (xERA) or FIP was two times his actual ERA. Baragar was weirdly adept (or lucky) when it came to getting out of trouble, but that’s not really a quality you want in a middle reliever as you chase a division title. Nor is that kind of discrepancy between ERA and xERA sustainable.
In summation, when the 2021 Giants skipped a couple years in their 5 year plan to win the National League West, Caleb Baragar’s development/role got pushed to the back-burner.
What does 2022 hold?
If Baragar can right the ship and prove that he can throw strikes and get outs, he’ll get more playing time. There is always room for a pitcher like that on an MLB roster.
I should note his numbers in Triple-A Sacramento were nothing to gawk at. Is that indicative of lingering arm trouble? Who knows?
I can’t imagine it’s a fun position to be in, but I wouldn’t be shocked if Caleb started out in the minors and spent more time next season shuttling back and forth on 80.
Or maybe 24 to 680 to 80 depending on traffic, of course.