I’ve heard estimates ranging wildly as to how much baseball is comprised of pitching, and while I don’t have that number for you, it’s safe to say that pitching is important. The Giants made a few attempts to improve their pitching staff this season, but in my opinion, it was not nearly enough. The Giants have a decent starting staff, but the bullpen is an absolute wreck.
The starting staff will probably, on Opening Day, consist of Barry Zito, Matt Cain, Matt Morris, Noah Lowry, and (I’m speculating here) Jonathan Sanchez. This rotation is actually ok, maybe even an improvement over last year, but is not suddenly staggeringly awesome, even with the addition of Barry Zito.
Let me quickly address the Barry Zito situation. Barry Zito is a good pitcher, and at his best he may even be a very good pitcher. He is not, however, an excellent pitcher and even in this inflated market he is not worth $126 million. He walks too many batters and strikes out too few to have justifiably good projections, even if he is going to be in a favorable park.
I’ve heard people contending that Matt Cain will be better than Zito this year, and I have no reason to doubt this. Matt Cain was a better strikeout artist than Jason Schmidt last season, with an 8.2 SO/9 compared to Schmidt’s 7.6. Despite a dreadful start to the season, Cain was absolutley dominant by the end of the season and is primed for a big season.
Matt Morris and Noah Lowry both underachieved last season due to injury and other factors. Neither are projected by PECOTA (Baseball Prospectus’ formula for player projectios) to make large comebacks, but I have a hunch that Lowry will be able to do so. His change-up is just so good that if he can learn to control it (and get lefties out, which is kind of disconcerting) he could be a very good pitcher.
The fifth starter will be a contest between Brad Hennessey, Jonathan Sanchez and Russ Ortiz. I hope Russ Ortiz gets little to no playing time, as he was never a good pitcher and has absolutely collapsed over the last couple seasons. Sanchez has the most upside, but the fifth starter will probably have to make way for Tim Lincecum by the end of the season. Lincecum struck out just under half of all batters faced in the minors last season, and is projected to be a perennial All-Star.
Finally, the bullpen. Armando Benitez, who is owed a lot of money next year, was a flop of epic proportions. He had two horrible seasons back to back, and despite reportedly shedding forty pounds, is still probably a terrible option. Even without Benitez, the bulllpen needs a lot of work, as evidenced by the fact that it is anchored by Steve Kline. I happen to think Steve Kline is a decent pitcher and a good guy, but he should not have the primary setup job. And throughout the rest of the bullpen is a mix of average veterans and young players who, too often, are not ready for Major League competition. I would love to be wrong on this, but I don’t think I am.
My overall prognosis for the season is not good. While I would like to say I think the Giants could contend, I feel like the Dodgers and Padres are too much better. And if the D-Backs’ young outfield pans out, even Arizona could be better than the Giants. I see the Giants finishing third or even fourth in their division, but there will be a few bright spots in the pitching rotation.