The San Francisco Giants have had a peculiar relationship with their rotation over the last decade or so. First it was “Lincecum, Cain and pray for rain” because Matt Cain and two-time Cy Young Winner-turned-worst-pitcher-in-baseball Tim Lincecum were dragging anemic rotations and offenses through the year. Then pitching, and specifically starting pitching, became a key component of their 2010, 2012 and 2014 campaigns, with Madison Bumgarner turning in arguably the best World Series pitching performance of all-time. Toss in several no-hitters and a perfect game in addition to Lincecum’s Cy Youngs and Bumgarners’ dominance and it becomes clear the Giants owe their successes to the pitching rotation. Fast forward to 2017, however, and the very expensive Giants pitching staff is mostly set but full of question marks outside of Bumgarner.
- Madison Bumgarner – The Ace
If it weren’t for the best pitcher in baseball, Bumgarner would be the best pitcher in both the NL and AL West. The massive, country strong pitcher not only dominates with a fastball and cutter (especially the cutter), but also a nice curve and changeup. There’s not much to be said about Bumgarner; MLB Network just named him the #3 starting pitcher in all of baseball. The only concern is that he goes the way of Matt Cain and falls apart thanks to his overuse. He’s coming off arguably his best year, posting his lowest full-season ERA, the most strikeouts in a season and a WHIP in the ballpark of his career best. He’s no slouch with the bat, either, becoming the sixteenth batter to hit multiple home runs off Clayton Kershaw.
- Johnny Cueto – The Shimmy
Cueto would be an ace on two-thirds of the pitching staffs in baseball (in all but six, actually, according to MLB Network who named him the eighth-best starter in baseball). Concerns over his failings down the 2015 stretch allowed the San Francisco Giants to swoop in and ink Cueto to a massive deal. Cueto Responded with a 2.79 ERA, a 1.09 WHIP and a 4.40 K/BB. He was dang good, and showed little signs of the arm issues that plagued his 2015 free agency bid. The only problem? Cueto has an opt-out after this year, and if he has a great year, he’s likely to exercise that option to see what he can get on the open market after two years of health.
- Jeff Samardzija – The Shark
Samardzija was a shaky free agent signing as the #2 starting pitcher for the San Francisco Giants, become a more solid #3, but will likely end the season as the #4 starter behind new comer Matt Moore. Samardzija, who had relatively high strikeouts but maddening control issues that led to walks and home runs bounced back his K-rate to near what it was with the Cubs, but he posted his highest walk rate and HR/FB rate since 2013. He’s going the wrong direction, and the Giants inked him through 2020. It’s going to be bad news at the back end of this rotation for a long while.
- Matt Moore – The New Comer
Moore came over to the San Francisco Giants via mid-season trade and was a mixed bag last year. In twelve starts, he had two or fewer earned runs eight times (including an almost no-hitter and 22 strikeouts in two games). He had four blowup games that vaulted his ERA upward. Eno Sarris of Fangraphs noted that Moore upped his cutter usage to great effect in San Francisco. His 4.08 ERA belies his true talent with the G-Men, and he’s going to be the #3 starter if the Giants hit any sort of post-season series.
- Matt Cain – The Obligation
Matt Cain gave everything to the San Francisco Giants, and as such, they’re hesitant to send him out to pasture. From 2005 through 2012, Cain pitched over 1500 innings of 3.27 ERA ball for the Giants as a key part of two World Series runs. The man formerly known as “El Caballo” (the horse) started to fall apart in 2014, with various arm issues limiting him to just 43 starts over three years with a 5.13 ERA. This is Cain’s last year in a Giants’ uniform barring some unforeseen turnaround. He has a $7.5 million buyout after this season, and the Giants will rush to pay that instead of his $21 million 2018 salary. He’s in the rotation due to his franchise prestige, not because of his 2017 talent level. He destroyed his arm, and there’s little left for him.
The San Francisco Giants rotation is extremely strong at the top, with one of the best one-two punches in baseball, but Moore and Samardzija are massive question marks and Cain is destined for disaster. Luckily they have some help available in AAA in the form of Ty Blach, Clayton Blackburn and Tyler Beede. Beede is their top prospect, and will likely only make starts for the Giants this year if there is a disaster. Blach started two games for the Giants last year, and pitched well. Cain might get phantom DL’ed for Blach if he can’t keep it together. Blackburn’s ETA is likely 2018, but with Blach and Beede ahead of him, he may be destined for the middle relief/swing starter role Bruce Bochy covets.