Over the years, the San Francisco Giants have put together one of the premier starting rotations in baseball. It started in 2002 when they drafted their current ace, Matt Cain, and concluded when they re-signed Ryan Vogelsong in 2011. Add in drafting Tim Lincecum in 2006, Madison Bumgarner in 2007 and signing free agent Barry Zito—which has been heavily scrutinized over the years—and you have a rotation that has brought two World Series championships to San Francisco in the past three years.
On top of the countless accolades the rotation has collected throughout the years, it's the youthfulness that makes it one of the most coveted rotations in all of baseball. Cain, Bumgarner and Lincecum are all under 30 years old, and Vogelsong and Zito haven't showed signs of slowing down.
Regardless of their ages, no arm is invincible. Over the past two seasons, Giants starters have logged the sixth-most innings in the majors: 1,996.
Individually, Cain has pitched the seventh-most (441), Bumgarner has logged the 18th-most innings (413) and Lincecum has 403 innings, which is the 25th-highest total in the league.
Those figures don't even include two full postseasons of pitching, which only one other team has done in the past three seasons.
That said, the Giants rotation has accumulated a ton of mileage on its arms over the past few years. It's time to start planning for the future and attempt to prolong the careers of the team's young arms, particularly Cain and Bumgarner's.
One way of doing so would be incorporating a spot starter into the rotation and have him pitch for a different starter each time through the rotation.
It essentially means that the Giants would move to a six-man rotation, but the five regular starters would still pitch every fifth game. However, approximately once a month, each starter would be given around 10-12 days off in between starts. Take a look at the chart below in order to better understand the process.
X: starter making scheduled start
O: sport starter making the start
The only factor that might pose as a problem in this strategy would be the cycle through the rotation after the spot starter pitches for the fifth starter, or in this case, Vogelsong. Since he wouldn't be able to pitch for Vogelsong and Cain in back-to-back games, the starters would make all five of their scheduled starts during that week, then the process would start over again, which is shown in the bottom row of the chart.
With starters missing a start once a month, it would subtract approximately 30-40 innings off their yearly total. This would make each starter fresher heading down the stretch, and possibly more effective in the playoffs. It could also extend the careers of the pitchers who have already accumulated a lot of innings in their young careers.
However, the success of this strategy is dependent on having a capable spot starter.
There aren't too many pitchers within the team's organization that would be ready to take up such a task. Eric Surkamp, who is coming off of Tommy John surgery, won't be able to pitch until July. Other internal candidates include Chad Gaudin or Boof Bonser.
Gaudin has had a strong start to spring training this year, as he's pitched 8.1 innings with an ERA of 2.16.
And if there aren't any in-house names that appeal to the Giants brass, there are still free agents like Kyle Lohse, Derek Lowe, Ben Sheets, Roy Oswalt, Carl Pavano and Carlos Zambrano who could step in and be a serviceable spot starter.
The Giants have positioned themselves to be in contention for the foreseeable future, but their success is dependent on the health of their starting rotation. By implementing a spot starter into the rotation, it would ensure longevity as a perennial powerhouse in MLB.