The SF Giants have agreed to sign right-handed pitcher Anthony DeSclafani to a one-year, $6 million deal.
According to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, the SF Giants have agreed to a one-year, $6 million deal with Anthony DeSclafani. The deal includes up to $250,000 in incentives as well, per Kerry Crowley of the Bay Area News Group. Susan Slusser of The San Francisco Chronicle first reported that the Giants and DeSclafani were “nearing” a deal earlier on Wednesday.
Many had speculated that the Giants, in need of multiple starting pitchers, would target at least one player looking for a bounce-back deal, like DeSclafani, after Kevin Gausman and Drew Smyly had success with the team in 2020. Gausman had been teammates with DeSclafani in 2019.
DeSclafani was selected in the sixth round of the draft by the Toronto Blue Jays in 2011 but was traded to the Miami Marlins in the Mark Buehrle/Jose Reyes trade after one minor-league season. He quickly ascended through the minors with the Marlins and made his big-league debut towards the end of the 2014 season. In 33 innings, DeSclafani surrendered a concerning 6.27 ERA, but had very solid peripherals, posting a 3.77 FIP.
Following his debut season, the Cincinnati Reds acquired DeSclafani and catcher Chad Wallach for Mat Latos. Ever since he has been a staple in the Reds rotation. From 2015-2019, DeSclafani made 103 starts to a 4.01 ERA (4.17 FIP), completed 589.2 innings, struck out 531, and walked just 164. While he missed much of the 2017 season with elbow tendinitis, he was a relatively healthy starter as well.
Then 2020 happened. In the pandemic shortened season, DeSclafani posted a 7.22 ERA over 33.2 innings with a career-worst strikeout rate and walk rate. By the end of the season, the Reds had relegated him to the bullpen. For any pitcher, a significant dropoff can often be a signal of a severe arm injury. However, he exhibited none of those warning signs. According to Baseball Savant, his average fastball velocities were in line with his career numbers.
After throwing 11 shutout innings to start the season, DeSclafani was lit up for nine earned runs in his third start. Reds catcher Tucker Barnhart suggested that he believed DeSclafani was tipping his pitches. While he did not disclose what the tendency was, it could explain why he struggled so mightily while seeing relatively no change in his stuff. Of course, if DeSclafani was struggling with pitch tipping in 2020, it will likely remain a problem going forward. If the SF Giants coaching staff can help him alleviate those issues, he has the stuff to be a strong mid-rotation arm.
DeSclafani has relied heavily on a four-seam fastball, sinker, and slider (throwing them at least 79% of the time every year of his career), but also has a changeup and curveball. While his fastball and sinker sit in the mid-90s, his slider is has been his only consistently above-average pitch. Even amidst his struggles this season, batters hit just .190 and whiffed on 35.6% of swings against it.
His reliance on his fastball and sinker will probably be curtailed by the Giants coaching staff. Gausman had similarly strong fastball velocity, but more useful secondary pitches. In 2020, his fastball usage dipped below 50% for the first time in his career. Expect to see a similar trend from DeSclafani with his fastball and sinker.
The changeup and curveball in DeSclafani’s arsenal remain the biggest potential sources of untapped potential. Eno Sarris of The Athletic noted that the 30-year old righty’s curveball was less effective in 2020 than it had ever been in his career. He found that his slider had trended towards his curveball’s movement, making the pitches less of a contrast to one another. Perhaps an adjustment could strengthen his overall repertoire.
His changeup seems like another pitch that could see a large increase in its usage. While he’s thrown it less than 6% of the time over the last two seasons, opponents have gone just 5 for 31 against the pitch with one extra-base hit. It might aid his fastball and slider both to more consistently use another pitch that looks like a fastball.
After a couple of starts in 2020, DeSclafani looked to be slated to join someone like Jake Odorizzi at the top of the second-tier of the free-agent starting pitching market. Had he replicated his success from 2015-2019, he likely would have received multi-year offers with $20-$30 million in guarantees. Instead, he will look to rebuild his value on a one-year deal in San Francisco next season before re-entering the market.
The SF Giants still need to make some more upgrades. It will be interesting to see if the front office attempts to add any bigger names, or if they will add another bounce-back candidate to fit alongside Johnny Cueto, Logan Webb, and Kevin Gausman. For now, though, their starting rotation has a bit more certainty after agreeing to a deal with right-handed pitcher Anthony DeSclafani.