High K/9 and Fastball Velocity (Relatively)
In fact, he's actually been pitching this well in his previous starts this year, as shown by his high K/9 in his prior starts. He's always been a bit wild, resulting in poor K/BB ratio overall, but the sign that he's doing OK with his pitching is when he's able to continue to strike out batters regularly and keep his K/9 high, relatively, which he was not able to do while a Giant until late last season. And he has been within 1-2 K of his IP each game this season, resulting in a fine overall 7.3 K/9 for him.
When he is most effective, at least prior in his career, he was able to keep his K/9 relatively high, which he has been able to do each game so far this season. He suffered from bad luck on hits his first game, poor command and bad luck (in terms of timing and relief allowing his runners to score) in his second game. Those are what you have to put up with to get games like his third game, at least from what I have observed from looking at all his individual games started.
Hopefully he can continue this and stay consistent over the full season. It's a good start for him overall, a 5 PQS start, as he's been a very slow starter for us in the past.
And that's a good sign as that is what he did for Oakland, get a 5 PQS start early. For us, he didn't get his first 5 PQS until July 5 last season (in that 10 strikeout game), until May 30 in 2007. In 2006, his last good season, he had it in his second start of the season, and in 2004 and 2005, his third start (like this season), fourth start in 2003, first start in 2002, and fourth start in 2001.
High (Enough) Velocity
And all the reports I've been seeing says that his velocity is in the high 80's, which is where he needs to be to be relatively effective with his curveball. When he is on, he is a bit like Big Daddy Reuschel, in that he relies a lot on his defense while piling up a good amount of strikeouts as well.
But when you operate like that, you will have games where the other team just dominates you. They keep pounding out the hits that the defense doesn't get, because they just fall in. That's where keeping his strikeout totals high helps, reducing the number of possible hits, plus that usually means fewer walks too, relatively. And he needs his fastball in the 88+ MPH range for his repertoire to be effective.
Skies Are Not All Clear, But Looking Good
Ideally, though, when he is really on, he strikes out more than his IP on a regular basis, and particularly over at least a three game stretch. By that observation, he's not quite there yet, but I'm OK with baby steps as long as they are positive steps, as we still have 5 more years of his contract, and all at the highest values now, so this is when we really need him to be at his most effective (not that we didn't before, but it's two years and counting now, so we cannot wait much longer).
The good news is that he has been pitching in a way that is effective for him since mid last season, punctuated by his 10 strikeout game that showed he's back, but really started two starts before that. It just came all together in that game. And he has continued that during the rest of the 2008 season and now into the beginning of the 2009 season.
Pitching Rotation Strategy
That is the only way to show the efficacy of the strategy that the Giants is employing, and which I've been touting as a good way to build a team, which is having a full staff of starters who are capable of throwing a good start every game. For most teams, the hitters know who the two pitchers of any team's staff they would like to avoid, perhaps three pitchers for better rotations, knowing that they get a "rest" facing 1-2 of the other team's poorest starters during any series.
But with a rotation like ours, there is no rest anywhere when everyone is on. Zito, as we all know, is one of the weak links, a reputation he has rightly earned with two seasons like the ones he delivered to us so far. Sanchez is also a weak link in that he has not proven to be durable enough to last a full season as a starter at the MLB level. He pooped out mid-season in 2008, but was very dominant for that first half of 2008. But with both looking like they are in a good spot right now, plus Johnson and Lincecum showing that they refound what was lost for a couple of games, and Cain being his steady best, the other team has no easy game.
- Lincecum: his funky delivery, high 90's fastball
- Johnson: 6' 10", lefty, and pitching effectively and efficiently
- Cain: righty professional killer
- Zito: lefty with the drop-dead gorgeous curveball that is greatly enhanced by high 80's FB
- Sanchez: lefty with a great fastball (for lefty), mid-90's, with life and sink
elite. Here is our pitcher's PQS, either seasonally or indication of potential:
- Lincecum: 67% in 2007, 79% in 2008; he has been 74%+ since second half of 2007
- Johnson: 58% in 2006, 60% in 2007, 53% in 2008; been 57%+ in 4 of 5 half seasons, last three seasons (injured second half of 2007)
- Cain: 52% in 2006, 56% in 2007 and 2008; been 50%+ since second half of 2006, reaching 60%+ in 3 of those 5 half-seasons
- Zito: he has been under 40% for the most part since second half of 2006, except for 60% for us second half 2007. But he had 40% in 2003, 47% in 2004, 66% in 2005, and 41% in 2006, showing that when he is effective and on his game, he can be a very good pitcher for us, which would be particularly deadly for us in the back of the rotation
- Sanchez: 45% overall in 2008, but 53% in first half of 2008
This is why I'm not as worried about the lack of offense as others. If the team can just score 4 runs regularly, we can rack up a lot of wins and be competitive in this division. It won't take much on the offensive side to boost our winning percentage when the pitching staff is this dominant up and down the rotation.
And as far as I'm concerned, this year is all about learning about our young hitters and giving our young pitchers more experience. I want to see at least .500 because I think they are capable of that, but the main thing for me this season is learning who can be complementary players going forward and who we need to replace, either with prospects or free agents.
I also want to see how it works having a rotation so dominant up and down. If we are to drink the kool-aid and follow Baseball Prospectus's advice, you want a high K/9 pitching staff. If we have a dominating staff up and down, that will contribute greatly to that metric. And, while they are on opposite sides of their careers, I view how Randy Johnson does in our rotation, assuming he's still good, as an audition for how our rotation will look once we let him go and add Madison Bumgarner to the rotation.
As noted, with such a strong rotation, there is no rest for the other team, they will struggle every other game with one of our starters. That probably won't matter as much in the regular season where teams face you for 3-4 games, but in the playoffs, they can face you 5-7 straight times, and if our guys shut them down, they will struggle with their confidence, they will start to press. Still, I think teams see what the Giants did to the last team, so there should be some carry forward, and this weekend against the D-backs should be a good test, both because of how well we've been pitching, but also because they were a team we beat upon the weekend before.
I think we have a great chance to win the series. Of course, any series with Lincecum in it will be one where we have a good chance to win the series, particularly since he is not facing either Webb or Haren, but their middle rotation guy, Doug Davis. Then Johnson faces Scherzer, as age faces youth, and Cain faces Garland, which should be the toughest matchup. I doubt we sweep, though that's a possibility given the streak the pitchers are on (confidence and pride - in not being the one to screw things up - and talent will keep it going for a while I think), but we should win two of three, I think, and crawl within 1 game of .500, particularly with some of our coldest hitters warming up plus going to a hitter's park like Arizona.