For Giants' Starting Pitchers, It's Not About Individual Stats
Tim Lincecum walked off the mound at AT&T Park Wednesday afternoon with the following line for the day:
one run, five hits, seven strikeouts and 111 pitches through seven innings.
With your ordinary big league club, you'd think: "Wow, he could finish this thing and get a complete game victory."
But the San Francisco Giants are no ordinary club. They're actually very extraordinary.
With a team offense that ranks toward the bottom of the league in every major category, the defending world champions still find themselves at the top of their division with a comfortable lead due primarily to their elite pitching staff, a staff that doesn't get its due when you look at the stat sheet.
All of San Francisco's starting pitchers have suffered in one way or another because of a severe lack of run support. Here's a look at just how good these arms have been in 2011.
Ryan Vogelsong has the best record and best ERA on the starting staff for the Giants, but believe it or not, he's had his fair share of low run support that has cost him some notches in the win column.
Vogelsong, who is 7-1 with a 2.02 ERA, has pitched superbly in several games in which, though deserving of a win, he took a no-decision.
For instance, on May 20 against the A's, Vogelsong pitched six innings, yielding just one unearned run on four hits and fanning five, but only got one run of support from San Francisco's offense by the time he exited the game. The Giants went on to win, 2-1, but for Vogelsong there was no "W."
Then on May 26, in his only loss of the season thus far, Vogelsong was masterful for eight solid innings, allowing just one run but watching his offense flounder against the Fish, leading to a 1-0 shutout at the hands of the Marlins.
On June 10 against the Reds, Vogelsong went six innings, giving up only two runs on eight hits while striking out six, yet the Giants could only get him two runs by the time he left the game. The Giants won in walk-off fashion, 3-2.
On June 16, Vogelsong continued his streak of allowing two earned runs or fewer, giving up two runs on six hits through six innings against the Arizona Diamondbacks. But San Francisco's offense could only muster a single run until the ninth inning and, despite tying the game, the Giants lost, 3-2.
In his first two starts of July, Vogelsong gave up a combined four runs on 11 hits while striking out seven in 13.2 innings, yet got no-decisions both times.
So as good as Vogey has been, the numbers really don't do him justice. He could easily have 10 or 11 wins by this point.
San Francisco's hard-luck loser torch was passed from Matt Cain to the young MadBum, who, despite having pitched very well for the most part in 2011, has a record of 5-9.
You guessed it: the Giants' lackluster offense.
Our first example comes from an April 27 contest against the Pirates at PNC Park. Bumgarner was fantastic, turning in six strong innings in which he allowed one earned run on five hits while walking just one and striking out seven.
The outcome: an "L." The Giants lost, 2-0.
The result was another 2-0 loss (both runs were unearned).
On June 9 against the Reds, Bumgarner pitched seven innings, yielding just one run while walking none and striking out seven. Bumgarner and the Giants suffered yet another shutout loss, 3-0.
Madison Bumgarner could easily be 9-5 instead of 5-9 right now.
But he's not upset with his club's hitters.
In an interview with the San Jose Mercury News, Bumgarner commented, "Nobody needs to apologize. I believe it will turn around, just like I said last time. Hitting’s the hardest thing to do."
Coming into the 2011 season, Matt Cain was the Giants starter that had the most hard-luck losses of anyone.
In fact, it was what he was known for around the league: great arm, lousy results because of lack of run support.
So far in 2011, Cain is trying to buck his own trend. He's currently 8-5 with a 2.99 ERA and 1.09 WHIP.
Even with these numbers, however, Cain has had his share of losses and no-decisions resulting from poor offensive help from his hitters.
On April 9 against the Cardinals, Cain gave up just two runs on five hits in seven strong innings, but got a no-decision, as the Giants could only push one run across while Cain was in the ballgame. San Francisco ultimately won that game in come-from-behind fashion, 3-2.
On April 26 at Pittsburgh, Cain held the Pirates to two runs on four hits while walking one and striking out six in six innings, but got another no-decision. The Giants could only score one run through the first seven innings of that game, though they went on to win by a 3-2 final.
On May 1 in Washington, Cain gave up two earned runs on seven hits in six innings, but got the loss as the Nationals beat the Giants, 5-2.
Against the Cubs at Wrigley Field on June 30, Cain was even better, tossing seven shutout innings and giving up just four hits while fanning six, but the Giants lost and Cain got yet another no-decision.
Most recently, on July 17 at Petco Park, Cain dominated the Padres, yielding just one earned run on three hits while fanning nine over six innings, but got a no-decision, though San Francisco won the game 4-3.
Matt Cain has pitched well enough to have more than 10 wins, but with little run support for most of the season thus far, his numbers, like those of his comrades on the staff, don't tell the entire story of his outstanding season.
Jonathan Sanchez has been shaky this season. He's been his usual brilliant, and then not-so-brilliant, self on the mound, pitching shutouts while virtually walking the entire opposing lineup.
But Sanchez has also suffered from low run support, and it shows in his numbers for 2011.
Sanchez is 4-5 with a 3.81 ERA, but those numbers, again, don't tell the whole story.
Sanchez has had only two starts all season in which he has allowed more than three earned runs. While many of his starts are cut short due to pitch count—a direct side effect of wildness and walking too many hitters—lack of run support has played a big role in suppressing his individual statistics.
For example, in his first start of the season, on April 1 in Los Angeles, Sanchez held the Dodgers to two earned runs on seven hits over 5.2 innings. He took the loss as the Giants were defeated, 4-3 (two of the four runs the Dodgers scored while Sanchez was in were unearned, as San Francisco committed two errors).
On April 8 against the Cardinals at AT&T Park, Sanchez was excellent, allowing just one run on four hits while striking out seven in five innings. The Giants won that game in extra innings, and Sanchez got a no-decision.
On June 7 against the Nationals, Sanchez went five innings, allowing two runs on four hits, but took the loss as the Giants couldn't muster more than a single run, losing 2-1.
On June 12 against the Reds, Sanchez tossed six frames in which he allowed just two runs on five hits, but even though San Francisco would prevail, 4-2, Sanchez got a no-decision, as the go-ahead runs in that game were scored after he exited the contest.
As erratic as Jonathan Sanchez has been on the mound in 2011, he really could have much better numbers with more run support.
It really must be a confounding thought to the world outside of the Bay Area that Tim Lincecum, despite being a two-time Cy Young Award winner and World Series champion, has never won 20 games in a season.
But the fact of the matter is, it's not Tim, it's his offense.
Tim Lincecum is receiving perhaps the lowest run support in his career this season, and it has hurt his numbers significantly.
But when your club isn't giving you runs, even a flat-out gem of a performance is sometimes not enough to earn a win.
Take Opening Day, for example, when Lincecum tossed seven innings without allowing an earned run, yet took the loss as the Giants fell, 2-1, after committing three errors.
Then there's May 10 against the Diamondbacks, when Lincecum was masterful, throwing eight shutout innings, yielding just four hits and fanning nine, but getting a no-decision as the Giants themselves were shutout until the ninth, when Cody Ross singled home a run to win the game, 1-0.
On June 29 at Wrigley Field, Lincecum was stellar again, going seven innings and allowing just one run on five hits, but getting a no-decision as the Giants lost to the Cubs, 2-1.
And of course there's Lincecum's last start, on July 20 against the Dodgers, when he held the Dodgers to a single run on five hits over seven innings, yet absorbed a loss as the Giants were shutout by Clayton Kershaw and lost, 1-0.
With more run support, Tim Lincecum is easily a 20-game winner. Instead, he hasn't reached 10 yet and the season has nearly entered the dog days of August.
No Run Support? No Problem
One thing that is often overlooked about San Francisco's elite pitching staff is that this is a forgiving bunch that is more focused on winning as a team than it is on individual stats.
As Madison Bumgarner told the Mercury News, and as Tim Lincecum displays every time he's jumping and screaming in the dugout after a big hit late in the game, these guys aren't worried about padding their numbers.
They're only worried about winning and reaching the pinnacle of baseball once again in 2011.
That's something that sets the Giants apart. They're as unconventional as a baseball team can get, but they find a way to win, no matter who gets the credit.