Few rotations in baseball rival the diversity, success and potential of the San Francisco Giants. Among the five starters are three Cy Young awards, an All-Star game win, a perfect game and 2012 World Series championship. As 2012 enters the history books, it's time to gauge the value and impact each of the Giants starters will have on the upcoming 2013 season.
While fans will remember Barry Zito forever more as the hero of an elimination NLCS Game 5 against the St. Louis Cardinals, his numbers across 2012 leave him as the worst pitcher slated to start games this season.
Zito's 15 wins are the most he's had since 2006 (when he was still with Oakland). There's no denying his stuff is in a far better place than it was even a year ago. Still, the safer bet is that Zito will regress somewhat, if not substantially. I welcome readers to stick this projection in my face when Zito wins his 15th game later this year, but I am more inclined to believe a resurgence from Tim Lincecum than a sustained superior effort from Zito.
Last season, not a week went by without fresh speculation on Tim Lincecum. Was his career finished or was this just a minor setback? In hindsight, no one is quite sure yet of the answer.
Lincecum's 10-15 record and 5.18 ERA in 2012 are two major reasons to be concerned about The Freak going forward. The playoffs gave critics some pause though: Timmy was lightning out of the bullpen, culminating in a 0.00 ERA in four innings of work against the Detroit Tiger in the World Series.
My prediction is that a World Series title was just what the doctored ordered for Mr. Lincecum. With his confidence renewed and a fresh chance to reestablish himself as one of the game's most dominant arms, I expect an uptick from his torrid 2012. Until I see it though, the fourth spot is as high as I'm willing to place him.
Before the All-Star break, Ryan Vogelsong was in the Cy Young conversation. As late as Aug. 7, he was leading the NL in ERA with a 2.38. But the season caught up with the righty journeyman. By the time the 2012 regular season drew to a close, his ERA was up to 3.37, virtually a full run higher.
I'm not harping on a guy who went 14-9 and won starts in the NLCS and World Series. Vogelsong is a legitimate presence on the mound, and it could be that 2013 will be his year. On the other hand, his age reflects a player passing the prime of his playing years, and expectations have to be slightly tempered by the truly unprecedented resurgence he's experienced over the past two seasons.
In the end, Vogelsong has done nothing to warrant true concern, which places him in the middle of the pack, ahead of two guys with looming question marks and behind two true aces.
Madison Bumgarner seemed like he had a down year. There was game after game where he came out flat, got hit by guys that a season earlier he was making short work of. But overall, MadBum finished the year with three more wins than 2011, and an ERA only marginally higher. His strikeout totals were identical from the season before (191), and he came through in the postseason (noticing a theme?).
When Bumgarner is on, he devastates. He won two World Series before he'd turned 23. With a nice extension is his back pocket, MadBum has nothing to focus on but the batter at the plate. If it isn't his time yet, it's coming. He's the No. 2 ace by default. There's little doubt he'll be No. 1 soon enough.
Matt's Cain 2012 reads like a list of career accomplishments: a perfect game, an All-Star Game win, a World Series championship. While his numbers didn't bring Cain into the Cy Young conversation (he did finish sixth in the voting), there are few who would argue his place as one of the elite pitchers in baseball.
Cain has pitched at least 200 innings in every season since 2007, and is remarkably consistent across his stat sheet. This is the reason why he is the best pitcher on the Giants staff: reliability. Hardware and broken records and clutch wins all have their place in baseball, but it's the guys who inspire confidence that provide the backbone of the best teams.
There were moments, more than I'd care to admit, where Cain ceased to inspire the kind of calm we've come to rely on him for. More often than not, however, he brought it in spades. San Francisco enters 2013 with swagger and purpose—to prove they are competing to be a dynasty team. Alongside Buster Posey, Matt Cain is the face of this campaign. He is a workhouse, and sooner than later, he'll need to find some free space on his trophy shelf.