The San Francisco Giants developed a stout reputation for premier starting pitching en route to two World Series championships, but struggled mightily to give their average offense an opportunity to thrive in the late innings last season.
Fatigue could have played a prominent role in dictating the staff’s pitfall into mediocrity. However, respected starters like Matt Cain won’t dub themselves as being victimized by tiredness. The Giants’ pitching staff performed at a vastly inconsistent level in 2013, recording just 80 quality starts while registering an inefficient 4.00 ERA.
If the Giants are going to reassert themselves as a dominant force next season, certain key players need to mount better season-long performances on the bump.
San Francisco was plagued by injuries throughout the 2013 campaign, although the team lacked the depth necessary to overcome substantial flux on the disabled list. Back-end starter Ryan Vogelsong started just 19 games for the orange and black, exposing a thin talent pool. In addition, junk-ball lefty Barry Zito fought through adversity, but could seldom pitch beyond the fifth inning, forcing pressure on the bullpen to over-perform.
In 2012, the Giants’ rotation started 160 regular season games while leading the team to a 94-68 record. No starter was forced to endure a DL stint. Manager Bruce Bochy didn’t hand the ball to one of the team’s five starters in two games: at the front-end of an early season doubleheader and during the final contest of the year, a meaningless game that occurred after the Giants had clinched the NL West.
Unpredictability on the injury front should persuade general manager Brian Sabean to bolster the Giants’ depth at starting pitcher this offseason. However, the men already in uniform are most crucial to the Giants’ success in 2014.
San Francisco is set to return three starters from last season’s 76-win team: Madison Bumgarner, Cain and Tim Lincecum. Those three names are synonymous with success in San Francisco, although Cain and Lincecum failed to pitch at a high level on a consistent basis in 2013.
Cain endured the worst statistical season of his career, finishing with an 8-10 record and 4.00 ERA in 30 starts. He failed to pitch 200 innings or more for the first time since 2006, his first full season, and also served-up 23 home runs.
Lincecum rode a roller coaster, tossing a 148-pitch no-hitter in July while battling the strife of an inconsistent fastball. The two-time Cy Young champ is no longer effectively wild, often struggling with his command. Lincecum has recorded three consecutive losing seasons, in spite of being handed a whopping two-year contract worth $35 million. He ultimately finished with a 10-14 record, 4.37 ERA and 193 strikeouts in 2013.
In spite of obvious command issues on the mound, both Cain and Lincecum have proven track records that point toward better season-long performances in 2013. Lincecum flashed signs of significant improvement last season after enduring the worst year of his big league career in 2012. He allowed fewer base runners (267) in more innings pitched in 2013 than the season prior. In his final 12 starts last season, Lincecum allowed four or more runs on just four occasions, while also earning five wins.
The Giants’ front office brass has serious confidence that Lincecum can rebound in 2014, ideally becoming a formidable starting pitcher that cannot be rattled early on. In 32 starts last season, Lincecum surrendered 18 extra base hits and a .284 batting average against before hitting the 25-pitch marker. If Lincecum can establish better control in the early innings, he has a clear-cut opportunity to reassert himself as a top-tier pitcher.
Statistical trends point toward Cain having a drastically better season than he experienced in 2013. Cain hurled 249.2 innings in 2012, including postseason action, seemingly leading to a tired arm. He failed to pitch a complete game for the first time in his career in 2013. However, Cain’s career 3.35 ERA is a solid indicator that he underachieved last season.
The Giants’ pitching staff is in flux this offseason, but the front-end of the rotation should be able to perform at higher levels in 2014, fueling a potential run at another pennant.