San Francisco Giants: The Biggest Question Facing Each Giants Pitcher in 2012

Ross Dautel@@RossDautelContributor IIIMarch 20, 2012

San Francisco Giants: The Biggest Question Facing Each Giants Pitcher in 2012

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    Top to bottom, the San Francisco Giants own one of the best pitching staffs in all of Major League Baseball. But as is the case with most staffs, there are questions that still need answering.

    Let's take a look at the question facing each Giants pitcher currently on the team's active roster as Opening Day 2012 rapidly approaches...

Can Jeremy Affeldt Recover Successfully from His Freak Accident?

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    In September of last season, Affeldt suffered one of the more bizarre injuries you'll ever hear of. While preparing lunch for his children, the lefty cut himself with a knife trying to separate frozen hamburger patties.

    Affeldt's 2011 season was cut short and he spent the rest of the season on the disabled list recovering from surgery to repair nerve damage.

    Affeldt appears to be recovering well from the injury and will be ready to go by Opening Day. Even though the injury occurred on his non-throwing right hand, it is worth monitoring any lingering effects that he may have.

Can Madison Bumgarner Avoid Another Slow Start?

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    All things considered, Bumgarner had a spectacular 2011 season. The southpaw threw over 200 innings, recorded 13 wins and maintained a 3.21 earned run average.

    However, it's hard to overlook the slow start Bumgarner had to the season in which he went 0-6 with a 4.25 ERA through eight starts.

    If the lefty can come out of the gates quickly, his 2012 production could eclipse that of the 2011 season. Now in his second full year in the league, can Bumgarner avoid another shaky start and establish himself as one of the game's elite?

Can Matt Cain Put Aside the Ongoing Contract Negotiations?

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    Cain's contract with the Giants expires after the 2012 season. Long-term contract negotiations have been an ongoing ordeal between San Francisco's front office and Cain's agent Rick Landrum but a new deal is not imminent.

    Although both sides would prefer to hash out an agreement before Opening Day, chances are that is not realistic.

    Regardless, Cain is still under the Giants control for 2012 and both management and the fans are expecting him to perform.

    Will Cain be able to put aside the ongoing negotiations between him and the Giants or will this off-the-field issue have a negative impact on his performance on the field?

Can Santiago Casilla Replicate His Production to Make Up for Losses to the Pen?

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    The Giants have had one of the best bullpens in baseball the past few years, and Casilla plays a big part in that. The right-hander was brilliant in 2011, striking out 45 batters in 51.2 innings while maintaining a miniscule 1.72 ERA. 

    The Giants relief corp took a minor hit this offseason with the trade of Ramon Ramirez to New York.

    With Ramirez gone, the need for solid relief pitching becomes even more of a necessity. Will Casilla be able to replicate his numbers from a year ago and maintain the Giants' reputation as one of the best bullpens in the MLB?

Can Steve Edlefsen Proves He Belongs at the MLB Level?

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    Edlefsen was used sparingly in 2011 for the Giants, throwing just 11.1 innings. The 26-year-old yielded 12 runs during his time in the majors, on the way to a less-than-stellar 9.53 ERA.

    In five seasons in the minors, Edlefsen fared much better, registering a career 2.92 ERA. Perhaps more impressively, the righty struck out 260 hitters in 289.1 innings.

    Minor league dominance is one thing, but performing in the major leagues is quite another. Will Edlefsen prove he's capable of succeeding in the MLB in 2012 or will he once again be sent down to the minors?

Can Clay Hensley Have a Ryan Vogelsong-Like Resurgence in San Francisco?

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    The similarities between Ryan Vogelsong and Clay Hensley are fairly apparent. Both pitchers were drafted by San Francisco out of college, Vogelsong in the fifth round, Hensley in the eighth.

    Both pitchers showed promise early in their careers before spiraling out after stints with other clubs, and both pitchers eventually returned to the Giants after several years in the league.

    Vogelsong was able resurrect his career a year ago in San Francisco with a brilliant 2011 campaign. Hensley would very much like to do the same in his first year with the Giants.

    The 32-year-old was solid for Florida in 2010, allowing just 18 earned runs in 75 innings (2.16 ERA) but struggled in 2011 allowing over twice as many runs (39) in less innings (67.2).

    Hensley's exact role on the Giants staff remains to be seen, but regardless if he's a starter or a reliever, the question will still remain: Can Hensley rejuvenate his career in 2012?

Can Tim Lincecum Successfully Handle Another Year with an Aneimc Offense?

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    Lincecum made 33 starts in 2011 for the Giants. In 18 of those starts, the Giants' hapless offense supported The Freak with two runs or less. Not surprisingly, Lincecum was 3-12 in those starts despite maintaining a solid 3.02 ERA.

    In the 12 starts that Lincecum received over three runs of support, the two-time Cy Young Award winner posted a 10-2 record.

    Unfortunately for the young right-hander, the Giants didn't make many offensive upgrades in the offseason, meaning more starts with less run support is a serious possibility.

    Overall, Lincecum handled the lack of support well in 2011, keeping his ERA low at 2.74 and striking out 220 batters.

    But if the Giants yet again fail to produce with The Freak on the hill, will the 27-year-old be able to keep his composure and post ace-like numbers in 2012?

Can Javier Lopez Live Up to His 2-Year, $8.5 Million Contract?

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    This question could very well be directed towards Jeremy Affeldt, who will earn $5 million in 2012 after the Giants decided to pick up the option on his contract.

    Between Affeldt's $5 million and the $4.25 million the Giants will owe Lopez, that's nearly $10 million tied up between two left-handed relief pitchers.

    Luckily for the Giants, Lopez is one of the best in the business and the lefty specialist has done nothing but produce since coming to San Francisco.

    Still, with the amount of money the Giants are paying Lopez, the fans will demand results. Will Lopez continue to put up gaudy numbers (.163 batting average against vs. LHB in 2011) or will he suffer a setback now that he is financially set for the next two seasons?

Does Guillermo Mota Have One More Good Year Left in Him?

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    At 38 years old, age is obviously a cause for concern for both Mota and the Giants. Nonetheless, San Francisco re-signed the reliable righty to a one-year, $1 million deal in February.

    Mota became Bruce Bochy's long relief man in 2011 and the veteran filled that role well, posting a 3.81 ERA in 80.1 innings.

    Bochy will likely look to Mota to be the Giants' primary long reliever yet again, which means the aging right-hander could see a similar workload to what he was given last year.

    Can Mota—who played an instrumental role in the success of the Giants bullpen the past two years—produce for one more year before retirement, or will age finally catch up to the 13-year veteran?

Can Danny Otero Break into the Majors and Make an Impact in the Pen?

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    Similar to the aforementioned Steve Edlefsen, Otero has found success at the minor league level but has yet to prove his worth in the big leagues.

    At 27 years of age, the time is now for Otero to prove he belongs.

    To say Otero is a good minor leaguer would be an understatement. In five years in the minors from everywhere from low-A ball to AAA, Otero has a cumulative 1.90 ERA to go with to go with 189 strikeouts in 213.1 innings. 

    With Ramon Martinez no longer a part of the Giants, the need for an additional right-handed arm in the bullpen exists. Can Otero make a successful transition to the majors and find success in San Francisco?

Will Sergio Romo Continue His Dominance of Right-Handed Hitters?

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    In 2011, Romo established himself as one of the elite right-handed specialists in baseball. The 29-year-old was nothing short of brilliant against righties—out of the 126 right-handers he faced, Romo struck out 61 and walked just four.

    He held opposing righties to a paltry .150 batting average, yielding only 18 hits to them all year long. The Giants already have a pair of left-handed specialists in Affeldt and Lopez and if Romo can continue to shut down right-handers, the bullpen could prove to be unhittable in 2012.

    The question remains, will Romo be able to keep up the pace of his stellar 2011 campaign or will hitters, particularly right-handers, begin to figure him out?

Will Dan Runzler Find His Control?

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    From the day he was drafted in the ninth round of the 2007 MLB draft and well into his minor league career, Runzler always projected as one of the Giants' top prospects.

    The southpaw possesses a live fastball which he uses to strike hitters out as well as induce ground balls. The only problem is, Runzler hasn't ever had much success controlling his go-to pitch, especially at the major league level.

    In 2011, Runzler struggled mightily walking 16 batters and recording a 6.26 ERA across 27.1 innings. There's still time for the 26-year-old to develop into a solid reliever but if he doesn't get his act together quickly, Runzler could find himself out of a job with the Giants.

Will Eric Surkamp Perform Well Enough to Be the Fifth Starter?

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    Now that Jonathan Sanchez has moved on to Kansas City, the Giants will be in need of a capable fifth starter. Immediately after Sanchez was dealt to the Royals, Bochy went on record saying that Barry Zito would be the fifth starter for the Giants in 2012.

    But, that doesn't mean Surkamp can't still make a push for the role.

    The young left-hander performed admirably in six starts with the Giants in 2011 when injuries within the rotation forced the 24-year-old into a starting spot.

    Surkamp will likely start the season in Fresno, but if Zito falters during the first few weeks of the season, the Giants will call upon Surkamp to full in.

    Can the lefty prove that he has the stuff to hang in the big leagues or will he find himself stuck in Fresno for the duration of 2012?

Was Ryan Vogelsong's 2011 Resurrection for Real?

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    In four previous seasons in the major leagues, the lowest ERA Vogelsong posted was 4.43 in 2004 with Pittsburgh. His highest strikeout total also came in 2004, in which he struck out 92 hitters.

    In his return to San Francisco in 2011, Vogelsong shattered both those marks on his way to the best season of his embattled career.

    The 34-year-old came out of the blue, throwing 179.2 solid innings, striking out 139 and recording a 2.71 ERA.

    Vogelsong's season was even good enough to earn him National League All-Star honors.

    After all of the success Vogelsong experienced a year ago, the obvious question is: Will the veteran be able to conduct an encore performance in 2012?

    It's one thing to have a breakout season but it's quite another to replicate that success from year to year. Will Vogelsong be able to prove that 2011 was not an anomaly by having another productive year this season?

Will Brian Wilson Shave His Beard?

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    All joking aside, Wilson can easily be considered the Giants pitcher surrounded by the most questions entering 2012.

    The Beard is fresh off an injury-filled season in which he threw just 55 innings, his lowest total since 2007. Wilson is finally showing signs of recovery, as he made his first spring training appearance against the Seattle Mariners last week.

    Wilson threw just nine pitches but added that all nine were "thrown with conviction." If Wilson is indeed able to recover fully from his elbow injury, will he be able to stay healthy throughout the course of the entire season?

    Will Wilson be able to return to his 2010 form, the year he led the league in saves with 48? And will Wilson even be in a Giants uniform come season's end considering his two-year, $15 million contract is set to expire after 2012? (For the record, the Beard still has one arbitration year remaining after this contract runs out.)

    All of these questions are ones that will surround Wilson as he embarks upon his 2012 campaign.

    Oh yeah, and that one about the beard too.

Can Barry Zito Hold on to the Fifth Starter Spot All Season Long?

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    When Zito first signed his seven-year, $126 million contract with the Giants in 2006, many San Francisco faithful expected him to be the ace of team's the staff for years to come.

    Now that Zito is in the second-to-last year of that record-setting deal, all Giants fans are hoping for at this point is for the 33-year-old to be a productive fifth starter.

    Zito's lackluster career in San Francisco has been well noted. The former Cy Young Award winner has a career 4.55 ERA as a member of the Giants, a far cry from the 3.55 ERA he had as a member of the Athletics.

    Now that Jonathan Sanchez is no longer apart of the team, Bruce Bochy has Zito pegged as the Giants fifth starter to begin the 2012 season.

    Will the Giants be able to salvage any ounce of production from Barry Zito's lucrative contract or will they be forced to turn to the likes of Eric Surkamp to round out the rotation?