San Francisco Giants fans will likely look back on the 2016 season, and the bullpen specifically, and 32 blown saves immediately comes to the forefront. But for one piece, 2016 was a continuation of the success that he has started since he joined the club.
In 2012, the San Francisco Giants grabbed a pitcher who transitioned from starter to reliever in the Yankees organization. That would be one Mr. George Kontos. Kontos began as a starter within the Yankees organization, and in 2010 started to make the transition to the bullpen. Kontos spent time in A+ ball within the Yankees organization in 2010, and by 2011 had fully transitioned to a member of the Yankees’ bullpen. He made four starts in AAA in 2011, and fully moved to the bullpen after, finishing the year with the Yankees big league club.
In 2012, the Giants traded Buster Posey‘s backup catcher, Chris Stewart, to the New York Yankees for Kontos. Hector Sanchez had stepped into the lime-light and won the backup job, and Stewart was expendable. The Giants needed someone who could go a full inning or more out of the pen, and that’s exactly what Kontos has done his whole life.
Kontos has a career ERA of 2.90, and throw in his WHIP of 1.167 with the Giants, Kontos has been absolutely lights out with the Giants. But why such little love? Being a quiet guy, on and off the field Kontos has flown under the radar for most of his career as a Giant. Lead preservation, or “distance maintenance” has really been his niche as a reliever. His most common entries into a game came in either the sixth or eighth inning with 13 in the eighth and 15 appearances in the sixth according to Baseball Reference. The seventh inning appearances came in a close third with 11. *(All stats in this article are provided by baseballreference.com‘s George Kontos archive.)
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In looking at his appearances we see his status as the “maintainer of distance.” When he entered games in the sixth inning, seven of the 15 sixth inning appearances were either with a two run lead or two run deficit. He also never entered the game while in a tie game situation during the 7th-9th inning stretch. The only other tie game appearances for Kontos came in extra innings.
When you continue to look at his game log, Kontos came into the eighth inning 10/13 times with a deficit of two runs or more. See what I mean by flying under the radar? Outside of the die-hard, watch/listen to every inning of the season no matter the score crowd, most people have likely tuned out by the time he comes into a game. So they don’t get to see what he really brings to the mound.
For a role that could seem as “insignificant” as distance maintenance, Kontos has made it his calling card. I know it’s an odd term, but that is his specialty.
It’s either keeping the lead nice and big till we get to the late inning specialists, or just keeping that gap close enough for them to be within striking distance. It’s a pretty important thing to have within the bullpen. A lot of times, the late inning guys are so used to coming into tie game situations, or situations with a slim lead, they tend to ease in a bit too much when coming in with a multi-run deficit, or even coming in with a large lead.
A guy like Kontos is a specialty, and a luxury that winning teams can afford, and really must afford. The Giants re-signed him this season to avoid arbitration. He has repaid their faith in him with his performances, and honestly deserves the money he’s getting. After rebounding from his pretty dismal 2013 season, his salary has gone up at least $1.2 million over the last two off-seasons. His performance is commanding of more money.
With a few more years under team control, George Kontos will be around likely to the end of his career. And as an unsung member of the Giants’ bullpen, Kontos will continue to take pride in his work. Even if it is “maintenance,” Kontos is one of the best at it in the league.
So this year, when the game is out of hand, and Bruce Bochy brings in Mr. Kontos, maybe just keep your TV on a while longer. Watch that devastating slider. Watch him keep the spread intact for the offense to either build upon or chip away at. Watch him limit base-runners. There is a reason his numbers are impressive. So in 2017, lets give some love to the unsung hero of the Giants’ Bullpen.