San Francisco Giants starting pitching ranked 7th
in the majors and 4th in the NL in earned run average (4.24) to go
with 6th and 4th in opponents batting average (.258),
while also leading all senior circuit teams in innings pitched (968.2 – 6th
in MLB). Unfortunately for their win/loss records, they also collectively got
the 28th lowest run support in the majors at 4.52 per game, with the
Giants’ offense scoring the second fewest runs in the majors. They also had a
tendency to hurt themselves at times as well, leading the NL in walks with 400
(2nd in MLB), but overall they are a solid bunch that gives the team
a solid foundation to build upon.
In this third of a (now) four part recap of the Giants 2007
season (6-month old twins…don’t get me started), I’ll be taking a closer look at
the performance of the Giants’ starting pitchers.
Starters 1 –4: Barry Zito, Matt Cain, Noah Lowry and Tim Lincecum
The Fives: Kevin Correia, Jonathan Sanchez, Russ Ortiz,
Patrick Misch, Travis Blackely
Barry Zito – 11-13, 4.53 ERA, .244 BAA, 1.35 WHIP, 3.80
BB/9, 5.99 K/9
The Giants’ new $126 million man, Barry Zito, struggled
through a rough 2007 season as he adjusted to his new surroundings and status as
the richest pitcher in baseball. While he pitched better than his final numbers
may indicate, inconsistency plagued the veteran lefty, particularly as he
battled through a rough stretch in June and July.
April 3 - June 4
June 9 - July 27
Pre Aug. 1
Aug 1 - Sept 30
April 3 - June 4
June 9 - July 27
Pre Aug. 1
Aug 1 - Sept 30
He was hit particularly hard by his former teammates across
the bay. In two starts versus Oakland, “The Other Barry” was 0-2 and gave up 11
runs (10 earned) on 15 hits and 8 walks in just 8 innings pitched.
On the other hand, Zito finished strong and was as durable
as ever, not missing a single start (even pitching once for the first time in
his career out of the bullpen) and ranking 6th in the NL with 103
pitches per start. Fourteen times he pitched into the 6th or later
while allowing 2 or fewer runs and 11 times he went 7 innings or more without
giving up as many as 3 runs, including in 5 of his final 9 starts.
Run support, which plagued all of the Giants’ starters to
some degree, really affected Zito as he ranked 67th (out of 84 – min
160 IP) in the majors with just 4.44 R/9. Giants fans can hang their hope on
Zito building on his strong finish and bouncing back to lead a very talented
young rotation in 2008.
Matt Cain – 7-16, 3.65 ERA, .235 BAA, 1.26 WHIP, 3.56
BB/9, 7.35 K/9
The knock on Matt Cain last year from some was lack of a
second pitch. Not only has he improved his curve in the last year, he’s also
bettered his slider and his change up, giving him 3 solid options to compliment
his notoriously tough fastball.
Then this season, as he began racking up walks in droves,
the critique was on his control - or lack thereof. Thanks to a vital mid-season
reckoning, that issue has been addressed as well.
After getting shelled in back-to-back starts against the
Cubs and the Braves in mid-July, the young right hander, who turned 23 October
1st, admitted trying to do too much; a result of the anemic run support he had
received up to that point. Cain up had walked 63 batters in just 123 innings
(4.61 per 9 IP) and struck out only 89 (6.51 per 9 IP) while posting a 4.03 ERA
and a .245 BAA.
It was then that he turned things around by getting
aggressive with hitters. In his last 12 starts of the year, Cain posted a 3.03
ERA and a .220 BAA while striking out 74 in 77 innings (8.65 per 9 IP) and
walking just 16 (1.87 per 9 IP). During that span, Cain pitched at least 6
innings and gave up no more than 3 runs in all but 1 start (that one start was
the shortest of his career - 6 runs in 2.2 IP in Coors Field). 8 times in his
final 12 starts, he allowed 2 or fewer runs.
And if you thought Zito’s run support lagged, Cain’s 7-16
record was clearly the result of pathetic run support which saw the Giants score
2 or fewer runs in 14 or his 32 starts and 3 or less in a total of 21. In fact,
of all 84 pitchers with 16.0 IP or more, only Kip Wells (3.43) received less
support than Cain’s 3.51 runs per 9IP, with the Giants scoring more than 4 runs
for Cain just 4 times all season.
11 times in the 2007 season, the hard luck Cain allowed 1
or 0 runs while pitching at least 6 innings. In those 11 starts, Cain’s record
was just 5-4 despite a composite 1.07 ERA and just 36 hits allowed over 76
innings. Four times the Giants were shut out in games started by Cain, and in
those starts, he was 0-4 with a 1.29 ERA and 3.21 H/9 (36 IP, 10 H, 4 R).
All in all, it was a tough season for Matt Cain, who, in
addition to the offensive woes, saw his bullpen fail to hold a lead five times.
Thanks in part to the veteran influence of Matt Morris (traded in July to
Pittsburgh for Rajai Davis), Cain nevertheless did a lot of growing and learning
this season. While Giants GM Nick Sabean will be sorely tempted to dip into his
starting rotation depth to improve the lineup, moving Cain is highly unlikely.
Noah Lowry – 14-8, 3.92 ERA, .266 BAA, 1.55 WHIP, 5.02
BB/9, 5.02 K/9
To many, Noah Lowry was the Giants’ best pitcher in 2007,
winning 14 games (in 26 starts) and posting a 3.92 ERA. That record, however,
was largely the byproduct of unusually good support. While overall he ranked
just 63rd in baseball with 4.85 R/9 of support, that number is
deceptive, as the Giants scored 97 runs in his 14 wins (6.92 per game). That
support helped him to offset some disturbingly alarming peripheral numbers.
In 156.0 innings this year, Lowry walked 87 batters while
striking out only 87 and his WHIP and BAA were the worst marks among the Giants’
top 4 starters. In fact, this season saw a continuing trend in which Lowry
allowed progressively more baserunners in each of the last four seasons while
also seeing his strikeout rate decline.
A strained elbow cost Lowry the entire month of September,
and may affect his marketability. But the Giants have a surplus of young
starters, and must consider moving Lowry, who, aside from Cain and Lincecum, is
the club’s most marketable pitcher. He is young (27 on October 10), left
handed, signed to a very affordable long-term deal ($2.25 M in ’08, $4.5 M in
’09 and a $6.25 M club option for 2010), and has had success at the big league
level. Pitching carries a heavy price in today’s game; a 14-game winner would
go a good ways towards acquiring a power hitting corner infielder.
Tim Lincecum – 7-5, 4.00 ERA, .226 BAA, 1.28 WHIP, 4.00
BB/9, 9.23 K/9
The Giants top pick (#10 overall) in the 2006 amateur
draft, Tim Lincecum made just five starts for AAA Fresno before ascending to the
majors in May. In those five starts, Lincecum went 4-0 with a .29 ERA (1 run,
12 hits in 31 IP) and held hitters to a .119 BAA to earn his promotion to the
show. At the major league level, Lincecum limited hitters to a .226 average in
24 starts, the lowest mark in the majors among rookie pitchers (min 100 IP) and
the 7th lowest mark overall. His .672 OPS against (13th
in MLB) also led all rookies as did his 9.23 K/9 (6th best overall).
His 150 strikeouts were second only among rookies to Japanese baseball veteran
Daisuke Matsuzaka’s 201.
Lincecum primarily used his devastating fastball and big
breaking curve to dominate and impress hitters throughout the league. Later in
the season, when he was struggling with his curve, he added what his father
calls, “an abbreviated fork-ball.”
Like most rookies, though, he had some rocky moments.
After starting strong with a 3.24 ERA through his first five starts, he had a
four-game stretch where he posted a 10.61 mark. That tough stretch culminated
in rough outing in Milwaukee, where he surrendered 6 runs in the first two
innings. Lincecum, however, did not give in, and finished by retiring 6 of the
final 7 batters he faced in what Giants announcer Dave Flemming termed, “a
defining moment” for the rookie right hander. After that game. he went on an
8-game tear in which he pitched at least 6 innings in every start and allowed as
many as 3 runs only once (including 8 shutout innings against those same
Brewers). Over 53.1 innings during that span,
The Future allowed just 35 hits and struck out 59 in posting a 1.35 ERA and
a .175 BAA.
Fatigue eventually brought the rookie Lincecum back down to
earth (5.05 ERA, .278 BAA in his last 7 appearances) and he was a healthy
scratch for his final two starts, but Giants fans by now have seen more than
enough to know that The Future is now
Russ Ortiz began the year as the Giants’ fifth
starter, but inconsistent pitching, coupled with injuries, limited the veteran
in his second go-round with the team to just 8 starts in which his ERA was 6.23
and hitters batted .316 against him. One injury resulted in his replacement in
the rotation by Lincecum, while a second scuttled his chance to replace Morris.
He would eventually throw 5.2 scoreless innings out of the bullpen before his
season was ended by Tommy John surgery
Without a doubt, the candidate for the 5th spot
in the rotation with the highest ceiling is 24-year old left hander Jonathan
Sanchez, who in 250+ minor league innings, has struck out nearly 12 batters
per 9 innings while allowing just over 7 hits. He began the year in the pen,
but made four starts in September, struggling badly in his final two. Overall
as a starter, he went 0-3 with a 7.16 ERA and a .353 BAA, although one bright
spot was only 5 walks in 16.1 innings after walking nearly 6 per 9 IP in
relief. He was relatively strong in his first two starts, though he will get a
long look next spring unless his high potential finds him included in a deal for
a hitter this winter.
Possibly the Giants most pleasant surprise this season was
the performance of right hander Kevin Correia as a starting pitcher.
Pressed into an emergency start on August 14th in Atlanta, the former struggling
starter turned struggling reliever tossed 4 1/3 scoreless innings to impress his
manager who said, “He gave us everything we wanted and needed.” After two more
relief appearances, Correia was moved into the starting rotation for the
remainder of the season, where he sparkled. In 46 innings, he posted a fine
2.54 ERA and 1.11 WHIP. Additionally, he held opposing batters to a .222
average and his OPS against was just .597. His performance made the 27-year old
a strong candidate to start again next year.
Rookie left hander Patrick Misch made four starts
for the Giants and was unimpressive, posting a 6.41 ERA and a .345 BAA. He was
much better in relief (2.18 and .240), where he also spent the majority of his
minor league time, and could find himself in a prominent role out of the bullpen
next year. Left handers hit just .238 against him.
Travis Blackley, who made his ML debut in 2004 with
Seattle, and was acquired at the close of spring training for Jason Ellison.
Blackley made two starts for the team, pitching okay in the first and poorly in
the second. After posting a 7.27 mark this year, the 24-year old left hander
from Melbourne, Australia has a career mark of 9.35 in 8 starts. In 2003, he
went 17-3 at AA San Antonio. In 2004, Baseball America ranked him higher than
Cain, but injuries cost him the entire 2005 season, and he has since seen his
prospects dim. Expect to see him in spring training trying to buck the odds.
Other candidates who will likely get at least a cursory
look in March are 28-year old right hander Chris Begg (2-0 in Double-A
before being promoted to AAA Fresno where he went 12-5 with a 4.35 ERA in the
hitter friendly PCL) and 25-year old righty Nick Pereira (9-9 with a 3.39
ERA and .231 BAA in AA after going 11-4 between class A San Jose and AAA Fresno
last year). Pereira reminds some of Brad Hennessey due to his command, and
throws in the high 80’s to low 90’s with curve and a change. Potential dark
Looking Ahead – Pitchers to Watch
Henry Sosa – Sosa dominated the South Atlantic
league, going 6-0 with a .73 ERA while limiting hitters to a .144 average in 13
starts for Augusta before his promotion to San Jose, where he went a modest 5-5
with a 4.38 mark. He throws in the mid-90’s with a strong curve.
Tim Alderson – The 22nd overall pick in
this year’s amateur draft, Alderson throws in the mid-90’s and has good command
of all three of his pitches. In 5 innings in the Arizona League, he allowed
just 4 hits and no runs while walking none and striking out 12. Some project
him as a future closer, though Vice President of Player Personal Dick Tidrow
insists he will start.
Clayton Tanner – The 19-year old left hander went
12-8 with a 3.59 ERA at Augusta this year, and has drawn comparisons to Lowry.
He has good command (44 BB in 135.1 IP) and a feel for pitching beyond his
Wilber Bucardo – Another 19-year old control
specialist, Bucardo walked just 11 batters in 65.1 innings in the low minors
this year, while averaging over 3 groundballs for every flyball. He went 6-2
with a 1.94 ERA in 11 starts in the AZL.
Ben Snyder – Brother of Indians OF prospect Brad,
the younger Snyder was 16-5 with a 2.09 ERA for Augusta with just 32 walks and
145 strikeouts in 151 innings. Described as a crafty lefty who works in the
mid-80’s with his fastball, he is seen as a future innings eater
Madison Bumgarner – The Giants’ top pick in this
year’s draft (#10 overall), he has yet to make his professional debut, but after
going 11-2 with a 1.05 ERA in his senior year of high school, the 18-year old
lefty is said to have developed a curveball and slider to go with his plus
Adam Cowart – 10-1 with a 1.08 ERA at Salem-Kaiser
in 2006, the submarining right hander went 14-7 with a 2.39 ERA at Augusta this
season. Deception is the name of the game for this 35th round draft
pick although his future may find him working out of the pen.
Kevin Pucetas – Winner of the second annual Most
Spectacular Pitcher Award as a result of his minor league-best 1.86 ERA at
Augusta, Pucetas was 15-4 with 104 strikeouts and only 21 walks in 145.1
Richard Van Zandt welcomes comments and debates at
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