The San Francisco Giants made a splash this offseason by signing two big pitchers–Jeff Samardzija and Johnny Cueto. They spent a combined $220 million to lure those right-handed hurlers to San Francisco, but was it money well-spent?
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Both pitchers have had a horrible spring training so far, and it’s already late March. It is about this time when pitchers start to crank it up and get to regular-season form–usually.
In two Spring Training starts, Cueto has a 16.62 ERA and a 2.54 WHIP, but in just 4.1 innings pitched. He is coming off a year where he pitched deep into the postseason with the Kansas City Royals, so the rust is understandable.
Although he finished last season with a 4.76 ERA in 13 games with the Royals, he had a 2.62 ERA for the Cincinnati Reds before being traded to Kansas City–and that was in a hitter-friendly Great American Ballpark.
Cueto, however, did have an encouraging start in minor-league camp earlier this week, giving up just one run in six innings.
According to reports, Cueto’s head injury he sustained on March 15 is nothing to worry about and should make another start before Opening Day.
We should no more about how Cueto is doing in his next start, once he stretches it out for a few more innings.
But perhaps the bigger concern is Samardzija. He has made five starts this spring and the numbers are not pretty. In 19 innings pitched, he has an 8.53 ERA with a 1.63 WHIP.
There’s perhaps a bit more concern for Samardzija. He is coming off his worst season as a big leaguer, where he went 11-13 with a 4.96 ERA.
His stuff looks good, with his fastball topping out in the mid-90s, but the location is not. He is leaving pitches out over the plate and hitters aren’t missing them.
Manager Bruce Bochy doesn’t seem too concerned.
“He’s really close,” Bochy told the Bay Area News Group.
Bochy also noted his fastball and slider “exploded at times.”
Samardzija doesn’t seem too concerned either.
“I feel good,” he told the San Francisco Chronicle. “That was a great day out there. The ball was down. … The splitter was great today. We’d been fishing for it for the first few starts. To get a handful of swings and misses on it, and get a punch-out on it, and I think we had a couple of easy ground balls on it, that’s huge for me.”
In that game on Monday, he pitched six innings, giving up six hits and six earned runs, including two home runs.
But as CBS Sports notes, there is some hope for Giants fans.
“While Samardzija’s early results aren’t inspiring hope for a bounce-back season, fantasy owners should remember that spring training stats should be taken with a grain of salt,” CBSSports.com wrote. “Looking past the ugly spring ERA, we have to remember that he still throws in the low-to-mid 90s and has shown the combination of decent control (2.77 BB/9) and strikeouts (6.43 K/9) to be an effective fantasy option.”
In other words, his stuff is good but it’s all about harnessing it.
To make Giants fans a bit more concerned, their always-reliable ace Madison Bumgarner is struggling this spring too.
He has a 10.57 ERA, but like Cueto, in a short sample size. He has only pitched in 7.2 innings (three games), and has struck out 9 in those innings.
And it is unclear how healthy he has been for some of those innings. In his last start against the Oakland A’s, he surrendered five runs in 2.2 innings, on seven hits, but had just come back from foot and rib injuries.
He could have been easing his way back, dialing back on his stuff just a bit.
Do these inflated stats mean anything? Probably not.
Samardzija had a 5.14 ERA in 21 innings pitched with the Chicago Cubs in spring training in 2014. He finished that year with a 2.99 ERA, only giving up 191 hits in 219.2 innings pitched, with a 1.07 WHIP.
Bumgarner had a 4.91 spring training ERA last year. He ended the season 18-9 with a 2.93 ERA and a 1.01 WHIP. He struck out 234 batters in 218.1 innings pitched that year.
In 2011, Cueto had a 6.00 spring training ERA. He ended up going 9-5 with a 2.31 ERA that year.
Spring Training stats can be illusory. A pitcher can be working on something, perhaps throwing one pitch in one location more than usual, without fans knowing it. And of course, a hitter will catch on eventually.
And with all the money being thrown at pitchers these days, there’s little incentive for pitchers to go all out in a game that doesn’t count.
The thin Arizona air doesn’t help either.
That aside, it would be nice to see a strong outing as Spring Training nears the end, especially at a major league ballpark.
Follow Vince on Twitter @Vince_Cestone