The San Francisco Giants head into the 2010 season returning four out of five starters from last year's rotation. With Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Barry Zito, and Jonathan Sanchez all back for another year, it is pretty simple to project how they will fare in the upcoming season.
But as for the fifth spot in the rotation, a relatively new kid on the block in Madison Bumgarner will be taking over for future hall of famer Randy Johnson.
While Bumgarner pitched strong in just 10 innings of work as a September call up last season, his style was far from what was advertised. Scouting reports suggested a mid 90s fastball, but Bumgarner consistently threw between 88-92 during his short stint with the big club.
Now there could be many different reasons for the lack of velocity, and the most likely scenario is that the recently turned 20-year-old was simply running on fumes down the stretch.
Either way, Bumgarner's ability to handle his first full year at the ML level is one of the main talking points going into the season because if he is able to impress right out the gate, it might just mean playoffs for the Orange & Black.
Bumgarner will be taking over a rotation spot that was filled by four different pitchers last season. Randy Johnson, Ryan Sadowski, Joe Martinez, and Brad Penny all spent time in the rotation last year. Now how successful were they?
Thanks to Penny, the overall numbers look solid for a No. 5 starter (granted RJ was a No. 2 starter when he was in the rotation).
In 17 starts, the Big Unit went 8-6 with a 4.81 ERA for the Giants while following Lincecum in the rotation.
Ryan Sadowski proceeded to go 2-4 with a 4.45 ERA, and Joe Martinez delivered a 2-2 record but with 7.60 ERA in the starting role.
Last but not least, free agent pickup Brad Penny went 4-1 with an astounding 2.72 ERA.
Overall, the spot in which the top pitching prospect will take over went 16-13 with a 4.58 ERA.
Those numbers for a fifth starter would be more than welcome on most clubs. But this is the San Francisco Giants, with pitching standards higher than that of any other team.
While Giants management would like fans to believe they "bolstered" the offense this offseason, the additions clearly aren't enough to make the realistic fan believe the run production will be drastically better.
But what if Bumgarner starts throwing darts right out of the gate? What if Bumgarner lasts the whole season in the rotation and notches an ERA closer to his career minor league ERA of 1.65 than the combined mark of 4.58 that he is replacing?
If Bumgarner can finish his first full year in the big leagues with an ERA right around three, then the Giants will without a doubt finish with the top rotation in baseball and because of it will end up with more wins than last year.
Simply said, of all the "improvements" the Giants have made to their offense, it is a pitching decision that has the best chance to increase the team's 88 win total from a year ago to 92 or above.
Once the Giants lost Penny to free agency, the best offseason move they made was one they didn't make. They did not sign a washed up veteran starter and allow Bumgarner to take the fifth spot in the rotation, which is what gives Giants fans their optimism heading into the season.
Considering that Bengie Molina, Mark DeRosa, and Aubrey Huff are all past their prime, it will be asking a lot for either of them to come close to what the Giants claim they are capable of.
But since Bumgarner has his best days in front of him, his addition to the club will be the most pivotal.
Why is this the case? Because as logic dictates, there are two ways to win more baseball games:
1) allow fewer runs
2) score more runs
With GM Brian Sabean signing more mediocre bats this offseason, it is highly unlikely that the Giants offense improves enough to get them over the hump.
The more feasible scenario is the Giants pitchers actually improves from their 2009 performances and allows even fewer runs.
If they do, Madison Bumgarner will have been a huge part of it.
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