Young SF Giants starting pitcher staking his case to stick in the rotation

Pittsburgh Pirates v San Francisco Giants
Pittsburgh Pirates v San Francisco Giants / Lachlan Cunningham/GettyImages

At some point, the SF Giants might have a fully healthy starting rotation. That might not happen as well. However it plays out, Keaton Winn is staking his case to stick in the rotation even when everyone returns.

Young SF Giants starting pitcher staking his case to stick in the rotation

Blake Snell (abductor strain), Alex Cobb (hip/elbow/shoulder), and Robbie Ray (elbow) are all expected to return to the rotation at some point in 2024. Snell should be back within the next few weeks, whereas Cobb and Ray are both eligible to come off the 60-day injured list at the end of May.

That will likely not be the case for Ray as the Giants are anticipating a midseason return. Cobb could return barring any setbacks, but he has dealt with both elbow and shoulder ailments in recent weeks.

If everyone is healthy, there are a lot of factors they need to consider. The first would be managing potential workload restrictions with both Kyle Harrison and Jordan Hicks. Harrison has never pitched more than 113 innings in a season as a pro, so what is the realistic range for innings in 2024? Perhaps, he can safely get to 130 innings or more, but the Giants will understandably be cautious with the 22-year-old rookie.

On the other hand, Hicks has not thrown more than 77.2 innings in a season since debuting with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2017. He is already at 34 innings on the year. Does it make sense to go from that amount to 150 innings this year? 125 innings feels like a solid number, but that will depend on health as well.

The Giants could employ a six-man rotation, but it would feel odd to disrupt the routines for veteran pitchers like Snell or Logan Webb in the middle of the year. This is all a convseration for a different day.

What is certain is that Keaton Winn is making a case to stick in the rotation regardless of whether everyone is healthy or not. On Sunday, the 26-year-old hurler put together another solid start against a young Pittsburgh Pirates team.

Winn yielded just one earned run on three hits and one walk across six innings. He recorded eight ground outs and five strikeouts while only throwing 80 pitches. He rarely ran into trouble.

This outing was part of a strong start for Winn. He has a 3.18 ERA, 3.72 FIP, 7.41 K/9, and a 2.80 SO/W ratio across 34 innings. This includes an excellent 60.2 percent ground ball rate, which is third in baseball among qualified pitchers. The major league average is 43 percent, so Winn is exceptionally above that mark.

Why are ground balls important? The first reason is that it is a great outcome with runners on base that often leads to double plays. The second reason is that hitters just do not do a lot of damage on grounders. Hitters have posted a .510 OPS on ground balls in 2024. It is tough to get an extra-base hit when hitters do not get the ball into the air.

Winn's strikeout rate is below average, but he keeps the ball on the ground thanks to a devastating splitter. Winn is also flashing his slider again, especially against right-handed hitters. It was a pitch that he did not use often following Tommy John surgery.

That said, the ability to prevent hitters from getting the ball in the air is a carrying tool. In today's game, hitters are trying to generate loft more than ever, but Winn's splitter has late movement that catches the bottom of the barrel if a hitter makes contact. This could be what makes Winn a mid-rotation arm.

Jordan Hicks has been the most surprising starter in the Giants rotation. Logan Webb continues to anchor that unit as the ace, but Winn is quietly put together strong numbers as well. The Giants are banking on a lot of young pitchers to support the rotation this year and beyond, but they may already have one in the mix with Winn.