Predicting the San Francisco Giants Pitching Staff Heading into 2015

Dan MoriCorrespondent IJanuary 2, 2015

Predicting the San Francisco Giants Pitching Staff Heading into 2015

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    Madison Bumgarner led the Giants to the World Series title in 2014.
    Madison Bumgarner led the Giants to the World Series title in 2014.USA TODAY Sports

    The San Francisco Giants have won three world championships in the past five seasons, and the cornerstone of their success has been strong pitching.

    Whether it is the starting rotation or the bullpen, general manager Brian Sabean has consistently built a solid pitching staff. Manager Bruce Bochy and pitching coach Dave Righetti know how to get the most out of their pitchers.

    Looking ahead to the 2015 season, once again, pitching will be essential to the Giants' success. 

    James Shields and Max Scherzer are the last two remaining front-of-the-rotation starters on the free-agent market. 

    A couple of weeks ago, The Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo (h/t Bryan Rose of FanSided.com) reported about the Giants' interest in Shields. However, after the signing of Jake Peavy, it's a long shot that the Giants will sign Shields. In addition, they would lose their top pick, 19th overall, in the upcoming amateur draft.

    When it comes to the Giants, the case of Scherzer is much clearer. Sabean has been clear that the Giants have no interest, as reported by Alex Pavlovic of the San Jose Mercury News (h/t Rose).

    According to Jon Morosi of Fox Sports (h/t Bryan Kilpatrick of SB Nation), Scherzer is seeking a huge deal that would be on par with the megadeal the Dodgers gave to Clayton Kershaw. This past January, Kershaw signed a seven-year, $215 million deal.

    Scherzer's agent is Scott Boras, who is notorious for trying to squeeze the last dollar out of teams. Based on comments he made to then-Mercury News reporter Andrew Baggarly and repeated during a televised interview in December 2009, Sabean seems to dislike working with Boras and coupled with the huge price tag, it's easy to understand why the Giants will not enter into the fray.

    The Giants have also been rumored to be interested in acquiring Cole Hamels via trade from the Phillies, as Jayson Stark of ESPN.com reported on Twitter.

    In order to acquire Hamels, the Giants would have to give up several of their top prospects and young players. Players like Kyle Crick, Joe Panik and Andrew Susac might all have to be included in a deal of this magnitude, and even that may not be enough.

    With Sabean also looking for help in the outfield, the odds are long on the Giants making a trade for Hamels. 

    Look for the Giants to head into the 2015 season with the pitchers on the roster. If they need to make some additions to their pitching staff, Sabean will likely try to do something by the July trade deadline.

    Let's take a closer look at how the pitching staff is likely to look when the Giants open the season.

Madison Bumgarner: Starting Pitcher

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    Madison Bumgarner was the World Series MVP.
    Madison Bumgarner was the World Series MVP.Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    Madison Bumgarner has graduated from being a very good pitcher to being the ace of the Giants pitching staff and one of the best pitchers in baseball.

    Bumgarner, who is still only 25 years of age, had a very good season. In 33 starts, he worked 217.1 innings and allowed 194 hits and 43 walks while striking out 219. His fashioned an ERA of 2.98, with a WHIP of 1.090.

    He earned his second consecutive All-Star selection and also won a Silver Slugger award. He takes great pride in his hitting, as he hit .258 with an OBP of .286 and OPS of .755. Bumgarner had four home runs and 15 RBI on the year.

    However, he shined the brightest in the postseason. He appeared in seven games and worked 52.2 innings, allowing 28 hits and five walks while striking out 45. 

    Bumgarner allowed only six earned runs for an ERA of 1.03, to go along with a WHIP of 0.627. After only two days of rest, he also came on to throw five innings and did not allow a run in the seventh game of the World Series. 

    Bumgarner was the MVP of both the National League Championship Series against the Cardinals and the World Series against the Royals. It was one of the greatest postseason performances in the history of baseball.

    He will lead the Giants pitching staff into the 2015 season.

Matt Cain: Starting Pitcher

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    Matt Cain made only 15 starts in 2015.
    Matt Cain made only 15 starts in 2015.USA TODAY Sports

    Matt Cain is penciled in to be the second pitcher in the starting rotation. However, the eraser is ready in case he cannot open the season.

    Cain made only 15 starts in 2014, after making at least 30 in eight consecutive seasons. He underwent surgery in August to remove bone chips from his elbow. Originally expected to be ready by spring training, he underwent a second surgery in September to remove a bone spur in his right ankle.

    Having the two surgeries casts a bit more doubt as to whether Cain will be able to open the season in the starting rotation.

    Cain struggled in the 2014 season, as he obviously was not right from a health standpoint. In 90.1 innings of work, he allowed 81 hits and 32 walks while striking out 70. His ERA ballooned up to 4.18.

    Although Cain's WHIP was a respectable 1.251, his 13 home runs allowed hurt him. He will be entering his 11th season with the Giants and has thrown 1,862.2 innings in his 10 prior years. He has endured a heavy workload, and one must wonder if he can pitch effectively for an entire season.

Jake Peavy: Starting Pitcher

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    Jake Peavy signed a two-year deal to return to San Francisco.
    Jake Peavy signed a two-year deal to return to San Francisco.Tannen Maury/Associated Press

    When Matt Cain went down with an injury in the middle of the 2014 season, Sabean made a deal for Jake Peavy, who was having a poor year in Boston.

    Prior to the trade, Peavy had made 20 starts with the Red Sox, producing a record of 1-9. His ERA was 4.72, and his WHIP was 1.427. Needless to say, fans questioned this move, because Peavy, who was 33 years of age at the time, looked washed up.

    However, reuniting with Giants manager Bruce Bochy, whom Peavy had pitched for earlier in his career in San Diego, proved to be a rejuvenating tonic. Peavy was energized by his return to the National League and being in the pennant race. His intense, emotional persona quickly made him a fan favorite in San Francisco.

    As a Giant, he started 12 games, working 78.2 innings. He allowed 65 hits and 17 walks while striking out 58. His ERA was 2.17, and his WHIP was 1.042.

    Had it not been for Peavy coming through down the stretch, the Giants never would have even made the playoffs, let alone won it all.

    After the Giants missed out on Jon Lester and the outcome of their negotiations with James Shields was still undetermined, they signed Peavy to a two-year, $24 million deal. If he can come anywhere near his 2014 form, it will be a great move.

Tim Hudson: Starting Pitcher

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    Tim Hudson celebrates the Giants' World Series victory.
    Tim Hudson celebrates the Giants' World Series victory.Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Several of the Giants players commented on how much they wanted to win for Tim Hudson, as reported by Janie McCauley of The Associated Press. It was the type of selfless bond that these players had for one another.

    Hudson signed a two-year, $23 million deal with the Giants prior to the 2014 season. He began the season well but faded down the stretch. At the age of 39, one must wonder if age was catching up to Hudson.

    He was coming off a devastating ankle injury, and there were questions as to whether he could even make it back. Hudson did and had a great first half of the year, earning the fourth All-Star selection of his illustrious 16-year career.

    For the season, Hudson threw 189.1 innings and allowed 199 hits and 34 walks while striking out 120. His ERA was 3.57, and his WHIP was 1.231. He also provided veteran leadership and bonded well with his teammates.

    Although he was the old veteran of the group, nobody enjoyed the run to the World Series and the eventual victory more than Hudson did. His youthful exuberance belied his advancing years. 

    Hudson will be 40 years of age in July, and given his rough second half of the 2014 season, it remains to be seen how effective he will be in 2015.

Tim Lincecum: Starting Pitcher

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    Tim Lincecum pitched well in the first half of the 2014 season.
    Tim Lincecum pitched well in the first half of the 2014 season.Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

    Unless the Giants make another move for a starting pitcher, Tim Lincecum will open the season as their fifth starter.

    He hopes to recapture some of the magic that earned him two Cy Young awards and four All-Star selections. However, his past three seasons have been tough on him.

    In 2014, Lincecum started the season well, including throwing the second no-hitter of his career in June.

    Prior to the All-Star break, he worked 113 innings, allowed 97 hits and 44 walks and struck out 101 batters. His ERA was 3.66, to go along with a WHIP of 1.248.

    However, after the All-Star break, he struggled badly and lost his spot in the rotation to Yusmeiro Petit. In 42.2 innings, Lincecum allowed 57 hits and 19 walks while striking out 33. His ERA soared to 7.59, and his WHIP jumped to 1.781.

    He often seemed lost on the mound, and as he lost confidence, Giants manager Bruce Bochy became reluctant to use him in tight games. Lincecum threw only 1.2 innings in the entire 2014 postseason.

    Perhaps the biggest reason he will likely get the chance to open the year in the rotation is because of his contract. He signed a two-year, $35 million contract prior to the 2014 season. The Giants will give him every opportunity to prove that he can resurrect his career.

Yusmeiro Petit: Long Reliever/Spot Starter

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    Yusmeiro Petit was invaluable to the Giants all season.
    Yusmeiro Petit was invaluable to the Giants all season.Elsa/Getty Images

    The Giants' unsung hero in the 2014 season was Yusmeiro Petit. He began the season as the long reliever out of the bullpen and typically only entered a game if the starter was knocked out early.

    Pitching in long relief results in sporadic opportunities, and Petit sometimes went more than a week without throwing in a game. Staying mentally and physically prepared is one of the toughest aspects of this role.

    Petit did it beautifully.

    He even set a major league record by retiring 46 consecutive batters. What was even more amazing was that he accomplished the feat over eight outings, including two starts.

    When Lincecum struggled and lost his spot in the starting rotation, the Giants needed a quality starting pitcher. Petit stepped in and pitched well.

    During the regular season, he had 39 appearances (12 starts). In 117 innings, he allowed 97 hits and 22 walks while striking out 133. His strikeout-to-walk ratio of over 6-1 was excellent. Petit's ERA was 3.69, and his WHIP was 1.017.

    In the postseason, he returned to his customary role as the long reliever and was outstanding.

    Petit will always be remembered as the pitcher who held the Washington Nationals scoreless over the final six innings to earn the win in the Giants' dramatic 18-inning victory in the second game of the National League Division Series.

    He was a key factor in the postseason for Bochy. He appeared in four games and went 3-0. He worked 12.2 innings, allowing only seven hits and four walks while striking out 13. His ERA was 1.42, and his WHIP was 0.868.

    Petit will return in the same role in 2015, but look for him to be in the starting rotation at some point during the season.

    The Giants have question marks with the age of Hudson and Peavy, the return of Cain from two surgeries and the uncertainty surrounding Lincecum. It is unlikely that everything will go smoothly with all of these potential problem areas, so San Francisco will likely call upon Petit.

Jeremy Affeldt: Reliever

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    Jeremy Affeldt had an excellent 2014 season.
    Jeremy Affeldt had an excellent 2014 season.Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    Jeremy Affeldt was the Giants' primary left-hander out of the bullpen. He did an outstanding job throughout the regular season and also in the postseason.

    He appeared in 62 games and threw 55.1 innings, allowing 47 hits and 14 walks while striking out 41. His ERA of 2.28 was his lowest since the 2009 season, and he had a solid WHIP of 1.102.

    In the postseason, Affeldt also shined. In 11 appearances spanning 11.2 innings, he did not allow a run. He allowed only five hits and two walks while striking out two, for a WHIP of 0.600.

    Affeldt gives Giants manager Bruce Bochy the ability to get hitters out from both sides of the plate. In addition, he can pitch effectively for more than just one inning, if necessary.

    He enters the 2015 in the final year of a three-year contract. Affeldt, who will be 36 years of age in June, must have another strong season for the Giants to bring him back beyond this year.

Javier Lopez: Reliever

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    Javier Lopez is the Giants' lefty specialist out of the pen.
    Javier Lopez is the Giants' lefty specialist out of the pen.Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Javier Lopez is the true specialist in the Giants bullpen. His job is to get the tough left-handed hitter out in a tight situation. He will often enter a game just to face one or two hitters.

    Lopez appeared in 65 games last year but had only 37.2 innings pitched. Over that span he allowed 31 hits and 19 walks while striking out 22. Lopez' ERA was 3.11, and his WHIP was 1.327. The ERA was his highest since the 2009 season.

    In 93 at-bats facing left-handed hitters, Lopez allowed a batting average of .194, OBP of .248 and OPS of .538. His numbers are far worse against right-handed hitters. In 48 at-bats, he allowed an average of .271, with an OBP of .429 and OPS of .783.

    In 2015, Lopez will have his usual role as the lefty specialist. The Giants are hoping the 37-year-old's inflated ERA was an aberration, not a trend.

    Splits courtesy of ESPN.com.

Sergio Romo: Reliever

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    Sergio Romo struggled during the middle of the season but finished strong.
    Sergio Romo struggled during the middle of the season but finished strong.USA TODAY Sports

    Sergio Romo recently signed a two-year, $15 million contract to return to the Giants. He began the 2014 season as the closer but lost his job due a series of poor outings.

    Up through June 12, Romo had pitched well. In 28 innings, he allowed nine earned runs for an ERA of 2.89. He registered 20 saves over that period.

    Then, suddenly, he lost it. His once devastating slider lost its bite, and opposing hitters teed off as a result. From June 13 through July 19, Romo threw 10.2 innings and allowed 13 earned runs. His ERA was 11.47 over that span. He struggled with his confidence and lost the closer job.

    Just as quickly as he lost it, Romo's slider returned. From July 22 through the end of the year, he was once again effective. He threw 19.1 innings and allowed only two earned runs. He went 14 consecutive outings without allowing a run.

    He  continued his hot streak into the postseason. In nine outings, he worked seven innings, allowing only six hits and no walks while striking out seven. He allowed only one run for an ERA of 1.29 and a WHIP of 0.857.

    Although he had 23 saves for the season, Romo will once again be in the setup role for Santiago Casilla. He will typically pitch in the seventh or eighth inning depending on the opposing hitters.

    Monthly splits courtesy of ESPN.com.

Santiago Casilla: Closer

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    Santiago Casilla took over the closer job in June and held it for the remainder of the year.
    Santiago Casilla took over the closer job in June and held it for the remainder of the year.USA TODAY Sports

    In 2012, Sergio Romo replaced Santiago Casilla as the Giants closer in the middle of the season. The Giants went on to win the World Series. 

    In 2014, the roles were reversed, but the final outcome was the same. Casilla replaced Romo, and the Giants went on to win another World Series.

    Casilla had a consistent season, albeit with one stint on the disabled list in late May through mid-June.

    In 58.1 innings of work, he allowed only 35 hits and 15 walks while striking out 45. His ERA of 1.70 and WHIP of 0.857 were career bests. Casilla had 19 saves during the regular season.

    He continued his strong performance in the postseason, collecting four saves and pitching 7.1 innings without allowing a run.

    Casilla will open the 2015 season as the Giants closer. If he can pitch like he did in 2014, it will be his job to keep.

Jean Machi: Reliever

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    Jean Machi was excellent early in the 2014 season but struggled late.
    Jean Machi was excellent early in the 2014 season but struggled late.USA TODAY Sports

    The San Francisco Giants typically carry 12 pitchers on their 25-man roster. This means there are seven relievers to go along with five starters. With Casilla, Romo, Affeldt, Lopez and Petit taking five of those seven relief jobs, that leaves two remaining spots.

    This was very similar to the beginning of last year, and one pitcher who forced himself onto the roster by having an excellent spring was Jean Machi.

    Machi was tremendous over the majority of the season but seemed to tire near the end of the year. In his first 33 appearances, which spanned 31.1 innings, he allowed only one earned run. His split-finger pitch was working perfectly, and Machi delivered far more than expected at the start of the season.

    However, as the season wore on, he seemed to tire. He carries a lot of weight, and that may have led to his late-season fade. His splitter, which was disappearing earlier in the season, hung up in the strike zone and got pounded.

    Machi had an ERA of 9.00 in September and went into the postseason on shaky ground. He did not fare well in the postseason, with an ERA of 7.94 over seven appearances.

    Look for him to be fresh coming into the 2015 season, and if that's the case, his devastating splitter should return. Machi will likely win a job out of spring training; however, he will need to improve his conditioning or could face another late-season implosion.

    Splits courtesy of ESPN.com.

Steven Okert

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    Steven Okert opened some eyes in the 2014 season, as he split time between the Giants' High-A affiliate in San Jose and the Double-A Richmond Flying Squirrels.

    He will need to come into spring training and dazzle manager Bruce Bochy and pitching coach Dave Righetti, but he has the stuff to do so. His primary competition for the last spot in the bullpen will be Hunter Strickland, George Kontos, Juan Gutierrez and Erik Cordier.

    In 2014, Okert pitched a total of 68.1 innings, allowing 57 hits and 22 walks while striking out 92. His strikeout-to-walk ratio of over 4-1 was particularly impressive. He had an ERA of 2.11, a WHIP of 1.165 and 24 saves.

    Okert was particularly impressive in the Arizona Fall League, as reported by Spencer Fordin of MLB.com. In 12 innings, he allowed only one earned run for an ERA of 0.75, to go along with a WHIP of 0.50. 

    Okert has a fastball that cruises in the low 90s, but he can ramp it up to the mid-to-upper 90s. He also has a good hard slider and is developing a changeup to keep hitters off balance. 

    He is a lefty, and that would give Bochy three left-handers out of the bullpen, a luxury he enjoyed in prior years. It will be a big jump for Okert to make it, but don't count him out.

    If the Giants decide he needs more seasoning, my bet is on Kontos. He is a veteran pitcher and a bit more polished than Strickland.

    Strickland joined the Giants as a September call-up. He was outstanding in his first few outings, but big league hitters quickly caught up to his high-velocity but often straight fastball.

    He needs to gain more command of his secondary pitch, the slider. If he can mix in an off-speed pitch every so often, that would help him keep opposing hitters from just sitting on the fastball.

    Strickland has a big arm, and that is enticing to the Giants, but unless he can develop a strong secondary pitch, he will be vulnerable.

    In September, he appeared in seven games and threw seven impressive innings. He allowed only five hits, walked none and struck out nine. Strickland earned a spot on the Giants' postseason roster.

    However, the roof caved in on him. In 8.1 innings, he allowed nine hits and seven earned runs, for an ERA of 7.56. The more alarming issue was that Strickland faced 34 batters and gave up six home runs. He will need to prove to Bochy that he can avoid the long ball in order to stick on the roster.

    Expect Strickland to be in the big leagues at some point in 2015, but perhaps not to open the season.

    All stats and contract data are courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.