Who Will Be the San Francisco Giants' Final 12 Pitchers for Opening Day?
The San Francisco Giants pitching staff struggled in 2013 due to injuries and performances that were unexpectedly mediocre. Pitching has been the cornerstone of the Giants' success and the Giants hurlers are determined to bounce back in 2014.
The Giants' long postseason run in 2012 took some of the steam out of the arms of the Giants staff last year.
The starting staff did not have the same zip on the ball and their consistency was lacking. The Giants' arms seemed tired.
In addition, the World Baseball Classic played a role in the poor performances of both Ryan Vogelsong and Jeremy Affeldt. Neither pitcher threw well and both were injured for much of the season.
In Vogelsong's case, the injury was unrelated, as he was hit by a pitch and broke a finger. However, prior to the injury, he was pitching very poorly.
Entering the 2014 season, Giants general manager Brian Sabean added Tim Hudson to replace Barry Zito in the rotation. Hudson is coming off a major ankle injury that cut short his 2013 season, but looks good thus far in camp. He should be on track to start the season in the rotation.
The rest of the Giants staff has benefited from a full winter, and they look refreshed and ready to go.
There are only a few jobs available on the Giants pitching staff. Manager Bruce Bochy only has three real spots he needs to fill.
The competition for these openings will be quite fierce and very entertaining. Let's project the Giants' twelve-man pitching staff to open the 2014 season.
All stats are courtesy of baseball-reference.com.
Madison Bumgarner was the Giants' best pitcher in 2013. He had an outstanding season and emerged as the new ace of the staff.
Bumgarner will be the Giants' Opening Day starter, an honor he earned with his performance last year.
In 2013, Bumgarner threw 201.1 innings, allowed 146 hits and 62 walks, while striking out 199. Bumgarner had career-bests in ERA, at 2.77 and WHIP, at 1.033.
At 13-9, Bumgarner was the only pitcher that opened the season in the starting rotation with a winning record.
Still only 24 years of age, Bumgarner made his first All-Star Game in 2013. Mature beyond his years, Bumgarner should be able to handle the lofty status as the ace of the Giants pitching staff.
Matt Cain had a rough beginning to the 2013 season, but came on strong in the second half of the year. He will slot into the second spot in the starting rotation behind Madison Bumgarner.
In 2013, Cain threw a career-low 184.1 innings, allowing 158 hits and 55 walks, while striking out 158. Cain's record of 8-10 was well below the 16-5 mark he set in 2012.
The thing that hurt Cain the most in 2013 was the 23 home runs he allowed. His ratio of 1.1 home runs given up per nine innings was easily the worst of his career.
Cain had an ERA of 4.00 and WHIP of 1.156. The ERA was his worst since he was a rookie back in 2006. Prior to 2013, Cain had six consecutive seasons with over 200 innings pitched.
There is good reason for optimism, as Cain rebounded with a solid second-half in 2013. His ERA prior to the All-Star break was 5.06, but only 2.36 after the break.
The Giants need Cain to pitch at the level he did after the break and in 2012. If he does that, and he's plenty capable, it will be a very good sign for the Giants.
Tim Lincecum is reinventing himself as a pitcher. His mental approach is substantially different that what it was when he first broke into the league in 2007.
Instead of being a power pitcher, with a fastball in the mid-90s, Lincecum now tops out at 92 mph, on a good day. Lincecum has realized that he doesn't need to strike out every hitter to be effective.
Using location and keeping the ball down in the zone will be the key to Lincecum's success in 2014. The acquisition of veteran pitcher Tim Hudson, who specializes in inducing ground ball outs, will benefit Lincecum.
Hudson and Lincecum have already been talking about how to get hitters out earlier in the count and getting them to get themselves out. If successful, Lincecum will be able to pitch deeper into games, which will translate into more opportunities for wins.
Lincecum had some great outings in 2013, including a no-hitter against the San Diego Padres in July. It was the level of overall consistency that eluded him.
Lincecum finished the season throwing 197.2 innings, allowing 184 hits and 76 walks, while striking out 193. His ERA was 4.37, and his was WHIP 1,315.
In 2013, Lincecum had his third straight losing season, with a record of 10-14. He did pitch better than that, however, as there were several times when the offense did not score him runs or the bullpen failed to hold a lead when Lincecum was in line for the win.
Lincecum inked a two-year, $35 million contract prior to testing the free-agent market.
He was frustrated over his performance in 2013 and reported to camp in much better shape and stronger.
Lincecum took this winter seriously and did a lot more work than in years past. He threw more and put on some much needed muscle. In many games last year, Lincecum's velocity would fall dramatically, sometimes even after the first inning. The added strength should give him much more endurance.
Look for Lincecum to have a good year, as he is learning how to pitch. Lincecum has realized that he needs to keep the ball down and do a better job of keeping hitters off balance. He can no longer just blow hitters away, like he did earlier in his career.
The added level of maturity, along with his better physical and mental preparation, will help Lincecum become a winning pitcher again.
In 2013, Tim Hudson was pitching well when a broken ankle cut short his season in July. As Hudson was covering first base, Eric Young Jr. landed on his ankle, as he was trying to beat out an infield hit.
Still not fully recovered, Hudson looks good and the belief is he will be ready to go at full speed when the season begins.
Prior to his injury, Hudson had thrown 131.1 innings, allowed 120 hits and 36 walks, while striking out 95. Hudson's ERA was 3.97 and he had a solid WHIP of 1.188.
Hudson is a ground-ball pitcher and will benefit from the slow infield in San Francisco. He has already paid dividends with his conversations with Tim Lincecum, who is learning how to get hitters out earlier in the count.
At the age of 38, Hudson has kept himself in good shape and looks strong. He is a major upgrade over Barry Zito in the Giants rotation.
Ryan Vogelsong had two outstanding years as a Giant in 2011 and 2012. He compiled a record of 27-16 in those two seasons with an ERA just over three.
Vogelsong was a key contributor in the Giants' World Series run in 2012. He pitched a career high of 214.1 innings, when the postseason is factored in. This was 25 innings more than Vogelsong had ever pitched in his career.
As good as Vogelsong was in 2012, he completely lost it in 2013. Even though the Giants' season extended until the end of October, Vogelsong opted to pitch in the World Baseball Classic. This meant he needed to be ready to throw at a high level in January.
The lack of rest for Vogelsong's arm was noticeable, as he could not locate his pitches and was hit hard. Then, in May, Vogelsong suffered a broken finger while batting and missed several weeks.
2013 was a lost year for Vogelsong, who threw only 103.2 innings. He allowed 124 hits and 38 walks, while striking out 67. His ERA skyrocketed to 5.73 and his WHIP was also poor, at 1.563.
Vogelsong, who will be 37 years of age in July, reported to camp in excellent shape. The Giants are hoping that a full winter of rest for his arm will rejuvenate him. If he struggles, it may mark the end of the line for the aging hurler.
However, if Vogelsong can return to the form he displayed in 2011 and 2012, he will be a valuable fifth starter for the Giants.
Starting from the back end of the Giants bullpen, the closer will be Sergio Romo. Although not blessed with an overpowering fastball, Romo used his devastating slider to record 38 saves last year.
Romo did well in his first full season as the Giants' closer, but there's always a concern about his physical stamina. At 5'10" and 185 pounds, Romo is small and not a physically imposing player.
The Giants won only 76 games last year, so Romo was rarely called on for more than a couple of games in a row. This helped him keep his arm fresh. When Romo tires, the slider flattens out and loses its bite. Romo then becomes quite vulnerable, as his velocity won't scare anyone.
Giants manager Bruce Bochy and pitching coach Dave Righetti must be careful not to overwork Romo.
In 2013, Romo had 60.1 innings of work, allowing 53 hits and 12 walks, while striking out 58. His ERA was 2.54 and his WHIP was 1.077.
Romo converted 38 of his 43 save opportunities—meaning he blew five. His 88 percent conversion rate was behind only Craig Kimbrel and Edward Mujica among pitchers with at least 15 saves. Cincinnati Reds' flame thrower Aroldis Chapman had an identical number of saves, and blown saves, as Romo.
The Giants will need a strong and healthy Romo to contend in the National League West.
The Giants' primary right-handed setup man in the bullpen is Santiago Casilla. He did a good job in 2013, although a cyst in his right knee put him on the DL for a few weeks.
Casilla threw 50 innings, allowed 39 hits and 25 walks, while striking out 38. He compiled an ERA of 2.16 and WHIP of 1.280.
Entering his fifth season with the Giants, Casilla is a mainstay in their bullpen.
Like Ryan Vogelsong, Jeremy Affeldt pitched in the World Baseball Classic and had a dismal season. He reported to camp overweight and not in top physical condition.
Affeldt struggled with his command all year and also spent time on the DL with a groin injury. He was told by Giants manager Bruce Bochy that he needed to come into camp in much better shape this year.
Affeldt took Bochy's comments to heart and reported in far better condition that he was in last year.
Bochy likes to use matchups with his bullpen, and Affeldt, when he's on, can get both left-handed and right-handed hitters out. Affeldt is a key man in the Giants bullpen and he needs to have a good year.
2013 was a lost year for Affeldt, as he threw only 33.2 innings, allowed 27 hits and 17 walks, while striking out 21. His strikeout-to-walk ratio of 1.24 was also very poor.
Affeldt ended the year with an ERA of 3.74 and WHIP of 1.307. He will need to improve on those numbers if he is to remain an integral member of the Giants bullpen.
The San Francisco Giants had three pitchers who had good seasons in 2013: Madison Bumgarner, Sergio Romo and Javier Lopez.
Lopez is a lefty specialist with one job. He is tasked with getting the top one or two left-handed batters out in a clutch situation late in the game. More often than not, Lopez does his job.
Although Lopez appeared in 69 games, he threw only 39.1 innings, which underscores the concept of facing only one or two tough left-handed bats. Lopez allowed 37 hits and 12 walks, while striking out 37.
His 1.83 ERA and 1.068 WHIP were especially good when you consider that he is typically brought in to face the likes of Carlos Gonzalez, Joey Votto, Andre Ethier, Ryan Howard, Jay Bruce and Adrian Gonzalez.
Left-handed batters hit only .156 off of Lopez and he allowed only six of his 57 inherited runners to score.
Lopez was rewarded by the Giants with a three-year contract for $13 million. As one of the premier left-handed relief specialists in the game, he is worth every penny.
Heath Hembree has been on the Giants' doorstep for two or three years now. After getting a late-season call-up in 2013, Hembree looks like he's ready to kick that door in.
Hembree is a hard-throwing right-hander, with closer's stuff. His fastball is in the low-to-mid 90s, and he also has a good, hard slider.
Hembree's progress was slowed by some arm trouble in the past, but that appears to be behind him.
In his first big league experience last year, Hembree did not allow a run and struck out 12 in only 7.2 innings of work. He looks poised to take the next step: Making the Giants' Opening Day roster.
The final two spots in the Giants bullpen are a bit more uncertain. Veteran Yusmeiro Petit looked like a lock to hold down the long relief role, but two abysmal outings this spring have left the door ajar.
Petit did a very solid job for the Giants in 2013. He appeared in eight games, starting seven. In 48 innings of work, Petit allowed 46 hits and 11 walks, while striking out 47. He nearly threw a perfect game against the Diamondbacks in a September start.
Petit should still win the job, but if he continues to falter, a pitcher like David Huff, Dan Runzler, George Kontos, Sandy Rosario or Jean Machi have a chance. None of these names is particularly exciting, so the hope is that Petit will right himself and get back on track.
The most intriguing name among the Giants pitchers vying for a roster spot is Derek Law. He pitched at three levels in the minors last year, but the highest level of experience he received was at San Jose, a higher level A-ball team.
Law had a tremendous year in 2013. He started out in Rookie ball, advanced to Low-A with Augusta and finished the season at San Jose. He threw a cumulative total of 66.1 innings, allowed 51 hits and 12 walks, while striking out 102. His ERA of 2.31 and WHIP of 0.950 were also impressive.
Law opened a lot of eyes with his performance in San Jose, of the California League. This is a very good league, known for offense. In his 25.2 innings, Law struck out 45 batters and walked only one.
The Giants' brass gave Law the chance to pitch in the Arizona Fall League, which brings many of the top prospects together to face each other. Law excelled against that top talent here, as well.
Law was the only pitcher in the AFL to throw at least 12 innings and not allow an earned run.
Law has a quirky delivery, similar to Gene Garber or Luis Tiant, where he turns his back completely to the plate, then spins around and fires the ball. With a fastball in the low-to-mid 90s, and a good slider, Law's delivery makes it extremely tough for opposing hitters to pick up the ball.
The command of the strike zone that Law has displayed is rare for a young pitcher. He is not afraid to go right after opposing hitters and keeps his pitches down in the zone.
Although it's asking a lot to move up from A-ball to the majors, if Law continues to pitch like he has been, he will force his way onto the Giants' Opening Day roster.
If Law falters, Jake Dunning or Jean Machi have the best chance of sticking.
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