With Spring Training fast approaching, MLB.com will take a look at a different aspect of this year's Giants squad each day this week. Today's topic: What's the difference?
SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants expect Mark Melancon to lead by following, even before ballgames count.
Melancon signed a four-year, $62-million contract in December to become San Francisco's closer, a role that the club couldn't fill adequately last season. The Giants believe that the stability Melancon provides will help manager Bruce Bochy and pitching coach Dave Righetti define roles for the relievers who precede him. Lacking a consistent closer, the Giants scrambled to retire hitters in last season's late innings as each relievers' responsibilities varied game by game.
The process of assigning relievers their respective tasks will begin almost as soon as Giants pitchers and catchers begin workouts on Feb. 14. Position players will get underway with a full-squad workout on Feb. 17.
This luxury eluded the Giants last year, as they were unable to convert 30 saves and lost nine games they led entering the ninth inning. Both were franchise records. San Francisco also dropped six games after building leads of at least four runs, tying Colorado for most in the Majors.
"We all knew what our struggles were," Bochy said. "The numbers speak for themselves."
Those numbers included erstwhile closer Santiago Casilla's eight home runs allowed, matching a career high, and nine blown saves, the most by a Giant since Robb Nen also amassed nine in 1999.
By contrast, Melancon has accumulated 147 saves since 2013, the third-highest total in the big leagues during that span. He recorded 47 saves in 51 chances last year for Pittsburgh and Washington.
As veterans, Hunter Strickland, Derek Law, George Kontos and Cory Gearrin have an edge among the right-handers seeking jobs. Strickland, who converted three saves in eight opportunities, no longer will be asked to serve as a part-time closer, barring unforeseen circumstances. He'll likely retain a prominent role, having pitched in a team-high 72 games while limiting right-handers to a .197 batting average last season.
Law distinguished himself as a rookie by posting a 2.13 ERA, sixth lowest among National League relievers. Right-handed batters hit just .203 off Kontos, and Gearrin recorded 45 strikeouts in 48 1/3 innings.
Josh Osich, Steven Okert and Will Smith are clear favorites among the southpaws to make the Opening Day roster. Osich's performances ranged to extremes, as he posted a 9.64 ERA in his last eight appearances yet led the Majors by allowing just two of 43 inherited runners to score. By contrast, Okert permitted lefties as well as righties to hit .259 (7-for-27) off him. Acquired from Milwaukee at the non-waiver Trade Deadline for pitching prospect Phil Bickford and former backup catcher Andrew Susac, Smith finished strong by recording 13 2/3 scoreless innings in his final 18 outings.
Chris Haft has covered the Giants since 2005, and for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter at @sfgiantsbeat and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.