Ahh, glorious middle relievers.
The next player on our 2021 San Francisco Giants season reviews is right-handed reliever Dominic Leone.
57 games, 53.2 innings, 1.51 ERA, 3.08 FIP, 1.099 WHIP, 50 strikeouts, 22 walks, 1.8 rWAR, 0.9 fWAR
Poor middle relievers. They get called upon so frequently, but praised so sparingly. Had Leone’s 1.51 ERA occurred while primarily pitching the eighth or ninth inning, he might have been an All-Star; instead, he’s a forgotten reliever even by his many in own fanbase.
The Giants have developed a reputation for identifying underperforming pitchers and helping them turn things around. The publicity for that strategy is almost exclusively on starting pitchers, but folks like Leone remind us to pay attention to the relievers, as well.
In 2020, with Cleveland, Leone had an 8.38 ERA and 5.47 FIP (in, admittedly, just 9.2 innings — forgive the statistically unimportant sample size, I’m trying to force a narrative here). In 2019, with St. Louis, he had a 5.53 ERA and 5.45 FIP.
Those numbers were so uninspiring that when Leone signed with the Giants on a Minor League deal, the only press I gave him was to lump him with 10 other MiLB signings (including Sammy Long!) in a short BP.
And what he do? Only finished with the fourth-best ERA of the 34 pitchers the Giants used, trailing only the 13.1 innings Kervin Castro pitched, the 6 innings Nick Tropeano threw, and the single out that position player Austin Slater recorded. Slap any kind of qualifier on there and Leone, he of the 5.57 ERA in his prior three seasons, is the Giants ERA king.
He still won’t get much credit, as he gets entrusted with only the least interesting part of games — and, in fairness, there’s probably a little bit of a reason for that.
But he was good in 2021. Very good. The entire bullpen was, really, and he was a huge part of it.
Role in 2022
Leone is one of four arbitration-eligible Giants — along with Mike Yastrzemski, Darin Ruf, and Curt Casali — who was tendered a contract but did not agree to terms ahead of the deadline (or the ensuing lockout). He will surely be back for another year of middle relief brilliance, we’ll just have to wait for the lockout to be resolved before that’s made official.