San Francisco Giants: Bochy’s Pitch-count Quandary

Aug 16, 2015; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy (15) smiles with starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner (40) after Bumgarner
Aug 16, 2015; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy (15) smiles with starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner (40) after Bumgarner /

After a great run of quality starts, the San Francisco Giants’ starting pitchers hit a wall over the weekend. First, Jeff Samardzija got rocked by the St. Louis Cardinals on Saturday, for his second consecutive lackluster outing. Then on Sunday, Jakey Peavy, who had been pitching well lately after a disastrous beginning to the season, allowed four runs in five innings. 

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It was bound to happen. As impressive as the Giants’ starting pitchers have been, there was no way they could continue giving six innings each time out while allowing three or fewer runs. Starting May 11, they strung together 13 quality starts in 14 games. In the 15th game, Matt Cain left in the second inning with a strained hamstring, so it wasn’t a quality start, but it wasn’t a bad one. Then three more quality starts in four games to finish May. But in five June games, the Giants have have only had two quality starts.

Is the rotation getting tired? No. One of the past five starts was handled by fill-in Albert Suarez, while it would be unreasonable to expect Peavy and Samardzija to excel every time out. That said, Manager Bruce Bochy does have to worry about the workloads of his top three pitchers; in the process of carrying the Giants to first place in the National League West, Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto and Samardzija have each thrown more pitches than any other pitcher in the National League. They’re all big strong, guys with histories of high innings without arm troubles. So this might not be much reason for concern.

But there’s enough for Bochy to monitor the situation.

Andrew Baggarly of the Bay Area News Group explores the matter with Bochy on his Giants Extra blog. The Giants need to be careful with these three, considering that they represent the team’s greatest strength. Bochy acknowledges that to Baggarly, pointing out that Albert Suarez will start Tuesday, giving Bumgarner (and subsequently, the other starters) an extra day of rest.

But should Bochy do more to lighten their loads?

One of the great attributes of Bumgarner is his durability, which allowed him to carry the Giants all the way through October for a World Series title in 2014. Durability is also one of the traits the Giants paid for when they brought in Cueto, who averaged 224 innings over the previous three seasons, and Samardzija, who averaged 216 innings in that same period.

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It goes without saying that Bochy shouldn’t drive them into the ground, but these three are proven to carry heavy loads. That’s what the Giants paid for, and that’s the return they should expect on their investment.