The San Francisco Giants have played their way into the postseason picture. Do they have the starting pitching to contend in October?
With the San Francisco Giants deficit in the NL wild-card standings now at just 2.5 games, fans are buzzing about what could be another improbable postseason run.
Back-to-back losing seasons left fans expecting a third at the start of the year, with an aging core, retiring Hall of Fame manager, and now front office head.
While the aforementioned core has largely underperformed relative to their hefty contracts, the new president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi has done a masterful job of shuffling the roster and finding cast-offs who have emerged as key contributors.
He’s hit on Stephen Vogt, Tyler Austin, Donovan Solano, Alex Dickerson, and Mike Yastrzemski by casting a wide net in minor league free agency, on the waiver wire, and on the trade market. They’ve all buoyed a struggling offense and have positioned themselves to be roster contenders next year or perhaps even trade candidates in the next few days.
However, outside of Drew Pomeranz and Trevor Gott, Zaidi hasn’t used that same approach much with the pitching staff. This is particularly true in the starting rotation, where he’s gone with mostly in-house options now that Pomeranz is working out of the bullpen.
Bumgarner has been solid over and elite of late. Since a rough start against the Los Angeles Dodgers on June 20, he has pitched 36 innings over six starts, posting a 2.00 ERA, .221 BAA, and a 41-to-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio while allowing just one home run.
He has seemingly pitched himself from being a declining trade asset to a desired one, and he now looks like an indispensable part of the playoff push and a candidate to be extended.
The San Francisco Giants recent hot streak is due in no small part to Bumgarner’s dominance. As he goes they go, and we all know who will be starting the NL Wild Card Game if the Giants finesse their way in.
Meanwhile, the best way to describe Samardzija’s performance this year might just be consistently inconsistent.
He has gone at least five innings in 18-of-20 starts, but there’s no telling if he’ll allow on run or five runs in the start. There’s still value in the aggregate though, as he has pitched 116.1 innings with a 3.95 ERA and 1.18 WHIP.
He also has a 106 ERA+, indicating he has been a slightly above-average starter when including park factors. He’s been a durable arm so far this year who eats innings and the Giants will take that from the 34-year-old who made just 10 starts last year.
The rookie Anderson has shown some flashes, but he’s been pitching poorly of late and might have the shortest leash of the bunch. He only averages 6.4 K/9 with 3.1 BB/9, contributing to a subpar 1.49 WHIP. He seems to be a fine back-end option with the upside for more if he can limit baserunners and miss more bats.
Fellow rookie Beede has been the Giants most improved starter this year. After three pitiful outings to start his season at the MLB level, Beede has pitched well over his last 10 starts, whittling his ERA down from 13.50 to 4.85 in the process.
He’s turned it up a notch in his last four starts, issuing just two walks while striking out 23 batters over 27 innings en route to a 2.63 ERA. If the former first-round pick can continue to pitch like this, he’s all but certain to be part of the 2020 starting rotation as well.
Meanwhile, since 2018 newcomers Dereck Rodriguez and Andrew Suarez are struggling to distinguish themselves at Triple-A and Derek Holland was designated for assignment and subsequently traded to the Chicago Cubs, it would appear the Giants would benefit from some reinforcements.
Menez pitched well in his MLB debut, allowing two earned runs while striking out six in five innings of work. He was optioned back to Triple-A after that start since the Giants can go with a four-man rotation for a stretch, but he’ll be back. However, he’s still unproven at best and has only thrown 35 innings at Triple-A Sacramento this year.
The other in-house option would be Pomeranz if he can continue to find the strike zone and keep the ball in the park pitching out of the bullpen.
And then there’s Johnny Cueto.
In the fourth year of a six-year contract, Cueto is on the comeback trail from the Tommy John surgery he underwent last August. If the San Francisco Giants are still in contention come September, Cueto could provide a nice boost to the rotation.
At this point, I wouldn’t expect the Giants to part with any significant minor league assets for pitchers, even if they are controllable for multiple seasons. A more feasible way to add young starters would be to trade Will Smith, Tony Watson, or Sam Dyson for one—given that they have ample minor league reliever depth.
In a one-game wild-card matchup, I would take Bumgarner over any pitcher. However, in a five or seven-game series, their options still pale in comparison to the rotations deployed by fellow NL contenders like the Los Angeles Dodgers, Washington Nationals, Atlanta Braves, and Chicago Cubs.
Given his success finding contributors thus far, Zaidi should absolutely have the benefit of the doubt at this point. Even if the rotation is not playoff-ready right now, I expect he’ll consider all options for the present and future of the team to decide which route to take.
It speaks to how far the San Francisco Giants have come that this is even a topic of conversation, and we’ll see if any moves are made ahead of Wednesday’s trade deadline.