SF Giants: Starting rotation remains a risky experiment in 2021
By Jeff Young
The SF Giants have developed a “reputation as an organization that can make players better,” but that reputation will be tested with a risky experiment in 2021.
SF Giants Opening Day starter Kevin Gausman is the perfect example of that, having come to San Francisco following a down year in 2019 and rebounded nicely in 2020. With that being said, the 2021 rotation will really test their limits in being able to recover a player’s value.
SF Giants starting rotation will be a risky experiment in 2021
Behind Gausman, the rotation projects to include a couple of incumbents in Johnny Cueto and Logan Webb. In 2020, Cueto and Webb posted a 5.40 ERA and 5.47 ERA, respectively. In fact, Cueto had the worst ERA in the National League among qualified pitchers. At 54.1 innings, Webb was just short of the workload required to be included.
Nevertheless, the Giants will need Cueto and Webb to eat up innings this season. Webb, in particular, is poised to take the next step in his development.
Aside from these three, the Giants also brought in Alex Wood, Anthony DeSclafani, and Aaron Sanchez. These are the experiments. This is where it gets risky. San Francisco is counting on these three to handle a meaningful workload, but recent history suggests that may be unlikely.
After all, Wood and DeSclafani pitched a combined total of 46 innings with a 7.04 ERA in 2020. On the other hand, Sanchez missed the entire season as he recovered from surgery to repair a torn capsule in his right shoulder.
In fairness to Wood, he has been a quality pitcher when healthy. In eight major-league seasons, the left-handed hurler has registered a 3.45 ERA (3.51 FIP), but he has eclipsed the 150-inning threshold just twice since 2016. Can the Giants count on him to reach 150 innings in 2021 while maintaining the same level of run prevention he has throughout his career? That remains to be seen, but recent history would suggest otherwise.
DeSclafani has been as inconsistent as Wood in terms of durability, but he has struggled to perform at the same level as his new teammate when healthy. The right-handed hurler generated a 7.22 ERA across 33.2 innings while battling a back issue in 2020, but the Giants need him to resemble the pitcher he was in 2019 where he pitched to the tune of a 3.89 ERA in 166.2 innings. Can he do it? Absolutely, but he also might pitch closer to his 2018 self when he produced a 4.93 ERA in 21 games started. It is a mixed bag with DeSclafani, but there is an upside that the Giants are hoping they can bring out.
Lastly, Sanchez has really struggled to regain the form he displayed earlier in his career and that is due in part to injuries. In 2016, the righty led the American League with a 3.00 ERA while receiving Cy Young votes and earning an All-Star nod. Since then, he has struggled to the tune of a 5.29 ERA and he has not pitched in more than 150 innings in any one season. Plus, pitchers do not always return to form after undergoing shoulder surgery. Though, the Giants felt comfortable enough in handing Sanchez a guaranteed deal after seeing his fastball touch 98 MPH on the radar gun.
The Giants need durability out of these three pitchers. The early signs are not great as both Wood and Sanchez do not look ready for Opening Day. Wood has been battling a back injury, whereas Sanchez has pitched in a total of 5.2 Cactus League innings.
Gausman will be the de facto workhouse of the rotation, but behind him, there are plenty of question marks on durability and track record. The Giants are seen as a team that can fix pitchers by giving them the coaching and opportunities that they need. Wood, Sanchez, and DeSclafani will get these opportunities. Each one has experienced some level of success at the major-league level, but they lack the predictability that this Giants team needs. In that regard, this is an experiment that could thrive or fall flat on its face.