The SF Giants starting rotation registered a 4.99 ERA in 60 games in 2020, but they got solid returns from the new arrivals.
When last offseason began, the SF Giants had Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija, Tyler Beede, and Logan Webb tabbed as the team’s rotation incumbents. Needless to say, they knew they had a lot of work to do.
The Giants brought in Kevin Gausman, Drew Smyly, Trevor Cahill, Tyler Anderson, and Tyson Ross on one-year deals. Ross eventually opted-out of the 2020 season, but the four remaining additions played a key role for a team that nearly snuck into the playoffs.
Since Farhan Zaidi took over the reins as the Giants president of baseball operations, he has been very patient in free agency. He has favored handing out one-year pillow contracts for pitchers looking to reestablish value or veteran pitchers on minor league deals with experience pitching out of the bullpen and rotation.
The Giants farm system leans heavily in favor of position players, so they will need to rely on trades and free agency to build their rotations over the next couple of years.
With the types of deals that Zaidi hands out, it is tough to continually rebuild the rotation. However, the other side of this is handing long-term deals to pitchers whose careers are potentially already trending downward.
So, Zaidi brought in five rotation arms for 2020, and four of them carved out key roles. How did each of those arms do?
SF Giants Rotation Additions: Kevin Gausman
Gausman quickly became the ace of the rotation. Across 59.2 frames, the right-handed hurler registered a 3.62 ERA (3.09 FIP) with a 32.2 percent strikeout rate against a 6.5 percent walk rate. With a 4.94 SO/W ratio, Gausman really commanded his arsenal well in the strike zone.
His repertoire consists of a fastball that sits comfortably in the mid-90’s with a slider, changeup, and splitfinger. His breakout season could be due in part to increased splitfinger usage. Over the years, he flashed his splitfinger under 20 percent of the time, but it is a pitch that has seen a spike in usage recently.
Opposing hitters posted a meager .106 batting average with 46 strikeouts against the pitch, so they struggled to make any meaningful contact.
Gausman is returning in 2021 after accepting his $18.9 million qualifying offer that he received after a strong campaign in 2020.
SF Giants Rotation Additions: Drew Smyly
For years, Smyly has flashed the potential to be a mid-rotation arm, but injuries derailed his career. The left-handed hurler battled a blister issue that put him on the shelf for a good part of the 2020 season.
However, when he was healthy, Smylyl was just as effective as Gausman. In 26.1 innings, Smyly generated a 3.42 ERA (2.01 FIP) with a 37.8 percent strikeout rate against an 8.1 percent walk rate.
If he had stayed healthy throughout the year, he may have been a candidate to receive a qualifying offer as well. That said, the 31-year-old should have no problem attracting interest on the open market after a solid season in 2020, including from the Giants.
SF Giants Rotation Additions: Trevor Cahill
Trevor Cahill was brought in on a minor-league pact and did not make an appearance for the Giants until midway through the season.
However, the veteran hurler proved that he could bounce between the rotation and bullpen as he made 11 appearances including six starts. In total, he posted a 3.24 ERA (4.19 FIP) with a 29.2 percent strikeout rate against a 13.2 percent walk rate.
Though he battled erratic command at times, his strikeout rate was by far the highest of his career.
The right-handed benefited from a change in pitch mix that including flashing his curveball 23 percent of the time. The pitch was literally unhittable as opposing hitters did not record a single hit against it.
Given that he has a versatile arm, Cahill will see plenty of interest on the open market, but he will not break any team’s bank.
SF Giants Rotation Additions: Tyler Anderson
The SF Giants claimed Tyler Anderson off of waivers from the Colorado Rockies in November of 2019. The southpaw was recovering from a knee injury he has sustained in the prior season, so the expectation was that he was going to miss the start of the 2020 season.
However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the start of the regular season was delayed until the end of July. By then, Anderson was ready to go. In 59.2 innings, he produced a 4.37 ERA (4.36 FIP) with a 15.8 percent strikeout rate against a 9.6 percent walk rate.
Unlike the other three pitchers, Anderson relies more on pitching to contact to generate outs. For a waiver claim, he did well to soak up some innings.
The Giants have the final say on Anderson as he is set to go through arbitration one final time before free agency. You can read more about the arbitration decision awaiting the team here.
For those of you still keeping score at home, the four pitchers combined to post a 3.80 ERA across 170.2 innings. So, while the Giants, as a team, posted a 4.99 ERA in the rotation, the additions made by Zaidi pitched much better than that benchmark.
The Giants are in a similar boat this winter as they were last year in that they will need to rebuild the rotation. It could be small sample shenanigans or a product of the shortened season, but the front office showed that they could find rotation value on the free-agent market.
If the Giants are going to be competitive in 2021, they will need to pull the right strings yet again. At least, there is some precedent for them making shrewd, under-the-radar moves. Retaining Kevin Gausman is obviously a start, but there’s a lot more that needs work.