Former top pitching prospect staking case to stick with SF Giants after saving bullpen

The SF Giants have had many injuries throughout their pitching staff forcing Spencer Howard into a role he was not expected to fill. However, he has taken his newfound lease on life and run with it. His surprising dominance has helped the Giants stay alive.
Philadelphia Phillies v San Francisco Giants
Philadelphia Phillies v San Francisco Giants / Suzanna Mitchell/San Francisco Giants/GettyImages

The SF Giants have lost or never had a majority of their rotation this season. All of Blake Snell, Alex Cobb, Robbie Ray, Keaton Winn, and Tristan Beck reside on the IL at this time with Cobb, Ray, and Beck yet to pitch in 2024. The only two healthy starting pitchers in the Giants rotation at the moment are Jordan Hicks and Logan Webb. However, much to the surprise of many, Spencer Howard has begun to stake a claim to one of those rotation spots as he continues his excellent 2024.

Former top pitching prospect staking case to stick with SF Giants after saving bullpen

The day the Giants honored Willie Mays in their first home game since his passing, the Giants scratched and clawed from down 4-0 to score three runs in the ninth inning to win 5-4. It was yet another bullpen game as relief pitcher Erik Miller got the start for the Giants. Both Miller and Spencer Bivens would get through the first three innings scoreless.

Raymond Burgos came on for his MLB debut and gave up a few bad-luck hits but managed to hold the Cubs to just one run. However, struggling Luke Jackson followed and his poor 2024 continued as he would give up three additional runs.

With one out in the 5th inning, Spencer Howard entered the game and held the Cubs for the remainder of the evening. Howard completed 4.2 IP innings, giving up zero runs, striking out eight batters, and allowing the Giants offense to fight back and eventually win the game. This is nothing new for Howard in 2024.

In 2024, Howard has a 3.80 ERA, 3.85 xERA with a 21.4 K% and 9.2 BB%. The former Phillies top prospect spent 2023 with the eventual champion Texas Rangers but only managed 3.1 innings at the MLB level.

Before 2024, Howard had a career 7.20 ERA with a 5.04 xFIP. In other words, he struggled mightily. Howard graduated rookie status in 2021 as the top prospect in the Phillies system and the 56th-ranked prospect in all of baseball.

The righty pitcher was viewed as a four-pitch pitcher who had struggled with injuries but if he could get healthy could be a valuable starting pitcher. The stuff+ on Howard's slider and changeup point to two above-average secondary pitches where his fastball and curveball have lacked but the Giants saw this and made an adjustment.

Howard is throwing his changeup 15 percent of the time which is his highest total since 2020 and it isn't being touched. According to Baseball Savant, the changeup has an xBA of .150, xSLG of .229, and an xWOBA of .201. Those are elite numbers. Furthermore, the slider has continued its dominance with an xBA of .202, xSLG of .322, and an xWOBA of .261. The fastball is getting crushed but the curveball performs well on the rare occasion he throws it.

Finally, the Giants have focused Howard's fastball up in the zone where he can locate it and while it is still getting hit, it allows his secondary stuff to complement it. His first pitch strike % is 70.4 which is a career high.

The 27-year-old has represented a shining bright spot in an otherwise dismal 2024 campaign for San Francisco. Perhaps in even better news, Howard is still pre-arbitration eligible with only a little over two years of service time accrued. The Giants may have found a diamond for someone who was viewed highly not that long ago.