San Francisco Giants Must Optimize Talent On Pitching Staff To Contend In 2014

By John Shea
Madison Bumgarner
Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

The San Francisco Giants have four weeks to fill few available roster spots on their 25-man roster. After barely tweaking their team over the offseason, the Giants are expected to enter the 2014 season with a familiar group of players who managed to win just 76 games in 2013. San Francisco’s previous success that resulted in two World Series championships was a product of solid starting pitching and shut down bullpen efforts.

The Giants must reassert themselves as one of the most efficient pitching teams in baseball if they’re going to contend this season. They’re expected to carry a maximum of 12 pitchers on their Opening Day roster, specifically because manager Bruce Bochy has decided to carry five outfielders. This personnel strategy isn’t necessarily unconventional, although Bochy typically likes to boast an extra arm in his bullpen because of his tendency to favor late inning matchups which cause him to make several pitching changes.

San Francisco’s bullpen was overworked in 2013 due to a lack of consistency from their starting pitchers. That shouldn’t be an issue in 2014, though, especially with junk-balling left-handed pitcher Barry Zito floating in limbo-land between retirement and attempting to mount a comeback. The Giants don’t own the burden of running him out to the mount every fifth day anymore, which is important. His spot in the rotation was filled by veteran right-handed pitcher Tim Hudson, who is the most successful active pitcher in the big leagues with 205 career wins.

The Giants’ starting rotation will also feature southpaw Madison Bumgarner, innings-eating hurler Matt Cain, two-time Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum and journeyman Ryan Vogelsong. Giants’ starting pitchers combined to win 71 games in the 2012 season but collectively won just 40 games in 2013. It will be crucial for San Francisco to ascertain the type of success their starting pitchers enjoyed in 2012 if they’re going to earn a playoff berth this season.

San Francisco’s starting rotation was determined before Spring Training started, but their bullpen has a few lingering question marks that need to be answered. The role of long-relief will be massively important for the Giants in 2014, especially if they opt to utilize a seven-man bullpen for a majority of the season. David Huff and Yusmeiro Petit are the two leading candidates to win the job. Petit was unimpressive in his first exhibition performance, allowing three earned runs on five hits in one inning work, whereas Huff is yet to make his spring debut.

Javier Lopez, Jeremy Affeldt, Santiago Casilla and Sergio Romo are locks in the Giants’ pen, which leaves a maximum of two available spots. The Giants are fortunate to possess decent bullpen depth in triple-A Fresno, thus allowing them some flexibility in making proper roster decisions. The most intriguing players who could make an impact on the 2014 team include Erik Cordier, who would immediately become the Giants” best flame-thrower, and Derek Law. Neither player has any big league experience, but both boast substantial upside.

Cordier consistently registers over 95 mph on the radar gun, whereas Law has a solid arsenal of pitches that he effectively mixes to get hitters out. Other players competing for roster spots include Jake Dunning, who posted a 2.84 ERA in 25.1 innings of work last season, and Heath Hembree, who struck out 12 batters in 7.2 innings pitched last September.

The Giants would be wise to slot Cordier on their Opening Day roster, simply because of the velocity his possesses on his fastball. He needs to improve upon his command, but the Giants could certainly use his power out of the ‘pen in middle relief. Hembree also figures to be a favorite to earn a roster spot. He impressed coaches in a brief stint last season and has little left to prove in the minor leagues. Both players would help solidify the Giants’ bullpen and help the pitching staff reestablish itself as a dominant force.

John Shea is a San Francisco Giants writer for Follow him on Twitter @cutthroatpicks. “Like” him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google.

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