San Francisco Giants 2013 Statistical Preview: Pitching
One week from today, Matt Cain will step onto the hill to face whatever replacement for Hanley Ramirez the Dodgers can muster, and the 2013 season will be underway. It's an absolutely beautiful prospect to think about, especially for a Giants fan.
Exactly how beautiful will it be, though? It's hard to muster one World Series ring; two in three years is an absolute pipe dream; three in four years, and you must be smoking some of the good stuff down by the Bay. In order to the Giants to even have a shot at that third ring, it will come down to how well their pitching staff can sustain their prolonged success.
That's where we come in: numberFire has taken a look at the Giants rotation this year, and we have the projections for what's going to happen. Sit back and read all about it, with maybe some Madison Bumgarner Cy Young talk thrown in for good measure.
Cain has slowly risen up the season-ending Cy Young charts, from 12th in 2010 to eighth in 2011 to sixth last season. That's about as surprising as an odd Brian Wilson hairstyle, especially when looking at his strikeout to walk ratio.
Cain's walks per nine innings have steadily decreased over his career, from 3.8 BB/9 in 2008 to 2.5 BB/9 in 2010 to 2.1 BB/9 last season. Meanwhile, his strikeouts per nine innings last year increased to 7.9 Ks/9, his highest total since his fireballing rookie season. That nearly 4:1 K:BB ratio finished as the seventh-best mark in the National League.
Of course, that ratio is child's play when you're essentially spotted a strike on most batters. Overall, Cain threw exactly his career average of strikes last season at 64 percent of his pitches. But Cain knew how to jump ahead: he threw a first-pitch strike to 62 percent of the batters he faced last season, the highest percentage of his career.
Cy Young Status for Bumgarner? Believe it: he's our No. 10 pitcher overall this season and our No. 6 SP in the National League, behind Clayton Kershaw, Cliff Lee, Gio Gonzalez, Stephen Strasburg, and Cole Hamels.
That strikeout to walk ratio that we loved for Cain so much? Bumgarner was even better at fifth in the NL, with 3.90 strikeouts for every walk he gave up. His strikeouts per nine innings? 8.3 Ks, just one strikeout off Gio Gonzalez's NL-leading mark. The percentage of home runs he allowed? 2.7 percent of all plate appearances, a number that may even regress to the mean of his 2.2 percent career average. His 0-2 count percentage? 28 percent of all plate appearances, meaning that over one-quarter of the batters he faced, he raced ahead 0-2.
Yeah, I'm man-crushing on Bumgarner pretty hard, and I'm not even sorry. That'll happen with nearly projected 200 Ks and 55 projected walks, the third-lowest walks of any starter in our top 20 starting pitchers. With that Cain-Bumgarner Dastardly Duo top of the rotation, opposing teams won't receive much of a break.
Now we're starting to duck down a tiny bit; Tim Lincecum is our No. 52 overall pitcher this year and our No. 33 starter. That makes him a borderline No. 1/No. 2 rotation guy on most squads; on the Giants, he's barely number three. I think it's safe to call the Giants the 1% in terms of pitching, but I doubt I'll see anybody in San Francisco protesting any time soon.
I'm not at all concerned with Lincecum's 10-15 season last year; by the advanced analytics, that sure seems like a statistical anomaly. His 4.4 BB/9 was 0.8 walks higher than his previous high from the past five seasons. The 8.8 percent of fly balls allowed that went for home runs was two percent higher than his previous career high. The 23 percent of balls hit into play that were line drives was also two percent higher.
If Lincecum knocks down those three categories alone to his career average, then a 10-15 season turns into a 15-10 season Burt Wonderstone-style. Considering Lincecum's previous body of work that includes two silly old Cy Youngs, I'm not going to put it past him.
I looked over the Wikipedia page for Kutztown University of Pennsylvania and found exactly three alumni I recognized: NFL retirees John Mobley and Andre Reed, and Giants starter Ryan Vogelsong. With all apologies to James Delgrosso, the mayor of Bethlehem, PA, from 2003 to 2004, seeing anybody come out of Kutztown of such a high stature is highly unlikely.
However, given his pitching history, it's not unlikely that he'll be a crucial part of this Giants rotation. Since returning the Big Time with the Giants in 2011, Vogelsong has allowed only 3.0 walks per nine innings while only 17 percent of his balls hit into play were solid line drive contact. Both those numbers indicate a solid pitching performance and that his 27 combined wins weren't a fluke.
Considering his three years as a full-time starter have come in 2012, 2011, and 2004, it's completely possible that we don't have enough data to know what Vogelsong's going to do. He's highly variable; he could bomb like Bonds on Bonds for ESPN. As the fourth starter, though, the Giants can take the risk.
He finished 15-8 last season! He went 2-0 in the playoffs! He had a win over the Tigers in the World Series! I'm almost at my exclamation mark quota for this article!
All of those things are true (especially the last one). Also true? Barry Zito had a career-high 9.1 hits per 9 innings allowed, a career-low 5.6 strikeout per 9 innings achieved, and a 1.389 WHIP that was his second-highest in his six full San Francisco seasons. Wins are an unreliable stat, my friend, especially in the face of this other data.
So pardon me if I'm a tiny bit skeptical that he's worked through his Olivia Munn-sized kinks. With only a projected 151 innings pitched, we wouldn't be surprised if the Giants went elsewhere (either the farm system, a trade, or a signing) for help part way through the season.
One of the strengths of this recent Giants run, the Giants bullpen appears to be in tip-top shape once again for this season. Well, at least part of it does.
Sergio Romo at the back end of the bullpen is the key, but with a projected 2.53 ERA and 1.23 strikeouts per nine, we think he'll be just fine. The same goes with Santiago Casilla at a 3.01 ERA and 1.17 Ks/9.
Past that, though? We're a bit bullish on both Jose Mijares (3.65 projected ERA) and Javier Lopez (3.57 ERA, 0.76 K/9). George Kontos could be solid, but we just haven't seen enough to suggest that he'll receive adequate time out of the pen or be able to keep up his solid numbers.
The rotation for the Giants is fine, even with the Zito lead weight dragging down the back end. If they're going to repeat, though, someone will need to step up out of the bullpen. Three trophies in four years is indeed a crazy notion, but after a quick look, this staff's efficiency is just plain insane as is.