Sidenote: I've been working on this for the past week or so, before the news of the Giants signing Denard Span to a contract, just moments ago. I'm leaving in my notes about the OF, just for the record. I'll add an addendum as well on Span.
If I ran through the litany of injuries that befell the Giants in 2015, and detailed all the time missed by key players like Pence, Peavy, Aoki, Belt, Panik, Crawford, plus noted the big trade for Leake that fizzled out with his stay on the DL and mediocre pitching even when healthy, one would think that 2015 was a disaster of a season. The Giants still finished a solid 84-78 and per Pythagorean, played well enough to have gone 89-73, only 3 games behind where the Dodgers ended, and, incredibly so, per Pythagorean, should have ended the season tied with the Dodgers for the NL West title at 89-73. Tied!
Many Naysayers like to say that these Giants are not a Dynasty because they did not repeat as winners in the odd years, and, worse, didn't even make the playoffs. Yet, in 2011 and 2015, the Giants were battling for the NL West title until late in the season, in spite of devastating losses of Posey and Pence, respectively, in those two campaigns, losses that, had they not happened, would have most likely resulted in the Giants getting into the playoffs. Both losses were on stupid MLB plays that are relatively rare, yet few of these Naysayers probably even know these facts.
And yet the Giants should have tied for the NL West Division Title in 2015.
Dodgers Better Than Giants in 2016?
Now the Giants have added Cueto and Samardzija, plus should have Pence for the whole season (Giants were 34-17 in his starts in 2015), with the major loss being Aoki, but with Parker looking like a close enough replacement, while the Dodgers meanwhile regressed, with Greinke leaving for much greener pastures, replaced by lesser pitchers, Kazmir and Maeda, who not only have to make up for what Greinke could do, but also what Greinke did in 2015, way out performing his peripherals, plus Howie Kendrick. And yet most forecasts have the Dodgers easily beating the Giants in 2016.
I guess part of it is that their young hitting prospects are busting out, and they are relying on them to do well again, while playing a full season. But they are also relying on some players to repeat their good performances, like Brett Anderson, who had 30+ starts for the first time in 6 seasons. But they seem to work in this way in recent seasons, piling on the number of available starting pitchers in hopes that they have enough to make it through the season.
And they have a lot again for 2016. They already have the five lefties - Kershaw, Wood, Anderson, Ryu, and now Kazmir - plus they just signed Maeda, a RHP, and they have Bolsinger and Frias in reserve, plus Urias should be ready by mid-season, if not sooner, I believe he's the guy they expect to replace Greinke's production eventually, though not likely in 2016, as Steamer projects him for 3.74 ERA (in two starts). Plus, last year, Brandon McCarthy fell under the knife for TJS, so he should be back roughly mid-season, in case he's needed.
I Am Not a Number: Number Two Starter
The odd thing to me was that Fangraphs notes that Kazmir is a potential #2 in a rotation full of #2 candidates, so I thought I would examine that. First, let's start with a definition of what a #2 starter is. I like to use the pitcher's ranking to define that. From 1-30 are the aces, from 31-60 are the #2 starters. In 2015, that was 3.49 to 4.11.
Wow, that's a wider and higher range than I had expected. I mean, Zito for a number of years was delivering a low 4 ERA, and nobody would call him a #2 starter or even a near #2 starter. But the analysis I've read is that 2015 had a strong uptick in offense, and I guess that this is the result of this, for in 2014, the 31-60 covered ERA range of 3.33 to 3.73. In 2013, 3.35 to 4.00. In 2012, 3.54 to 4.12, or roughly same as in 2015.
So while it seemed odd to me, the increase in offense in 2015 has pushed the range for #2 enough that their statement appears to be true.
Side note, but I also noticed the number of qualifying pitchers. The standard is 1 IP per game played by your team, or 162 IP. That's roughly 5 IP per start for a starter who made 32 starts (plus 2 IP), hardly a horse of a starter. In 2014, there were 88 of them, but in 2015, only 78. Checking further back, 81 in 2013, 88 in 2012, 94 in 2011, 92 in 2010, heck, here's the list:
- 2000: 87 pitchers
- 2001: 84 pitchers
- 2002: 85 pitchers
- 2003: 91 pitchers
- 2004: 89 pitchers
- 2005: 93 pitchers
- 2006: 84 pitchers
- 2007: 80 pitchers
- 2008: 88 pitchers
- 2009: 77 pitchers
- 2010: 92 pitchers
- 2011: 94 pitchers
- 2012: 88 pitchers
- 2013: 81 pitchers
- 2014: 88 pitchers
- 2015: 78 pitchers
The mean over that time is 86.2 pitchers. So, on average, the average team has up to 3 starters who actually qualify with 162+ IP. The implication of this is that the vast majority of teams have a revolving door in the #4 starting rotation spots, which I don't think most people realize, as well as the #5 starting spot. And some are having issues with their #3 starter as well, a good number in 2015, as there were only 18 qualifiers in that third tier. As we'll see, the Giants were among those, for once.
Since 2009, the Giants had these qualifying pitchers in their rotation:
- 2009: Lincecum, Cain, Zito, Sanchez (just made it at 163.1 IP)
- 2010: Cain, Lincecum, Zito, Sanchez
- 2011: Cain, Lincecum, Bumgarner, Vogelsong
- 2012: Cain, Bumgarner, Vogelsong, Lincecum, Zito
- 2013: Bumgarner, Lincecum, Cain
- 2014: Bumgarner, Hudson, Vogelsong (Lincecum just short by less than 7 IP)
- 2015: Bumgarner, Heston (at 177 IP)
So as much as Zito was hated by some, he provided a steady IP eating performance that was roughly average most of the time. He was a good asset for us in the #4 slot. Just overpaid. With him, we regularly had four qualifying starters in a season, which allowed the Giants to not have to carry as much pitching depth, as well as didn't have to suffer a lot of #4 starts where the starter was very iffy
And clearly, heading into 2016, we did not have that steadiness anymore, but now Cueto and Samardzija provide that in spades with Bumgarner, as all three have been horses, Bumgarner has averaged roughly 210 IP since 2011, Cueto 227 IP the past two years, Samardzija 216 IP over the past three seasons. They should comprise three qualifiers in 2016 and 2017.
Cain should be another qualifying horse, I think. Again, he didn't have any real damage to any of his body parts related to his throwing motion (shoulder, elbow, hips, legs) repaired, only had bone chips removed, and his extended injury last season seemed related more to him not being used to being so free to swing his arm that he strained something, then after that, he was still not used to being so free with his elbow and felt weird all season until his last start. I think this relates to him using "learning mode" rather than "muscle memory mode" in his mechanics until his last start, where he did well enough. I think with spring training to get back into playing shape, he should be good to go in 2016-2017.
Peavy is no horse, he's a wild card, and an unlikely one at that to go all season long, but with Heston and Blackburn in reserve, we should be easily covered there. Plus, Blach, Beede, and Stratton are all getting closer to the show, and could be ready by mid-season. So we have a lot of good coverage here, though one more veteran in reserve would be useful, which I'll get into my theory down at the bottom.
Dodgers Rotation in 2016
Next, let's go through LA's candidates, starting with Kazmir. Steamer projects him at 3.59 ERA for 2016, and that is in line with his ERA and FIP over the past three seasons. Anderson is projected at 3.58 ERA himself, but while that is in line with his career numbers, his FIPs were much higher in the high 3's. Still, those qualify for #2 status, just on the back end. Still, however, what are the odds he survive another full season without going on the DL for an extended period.
Among the other starters, Wood is projected at 3.84, so that's also a #2 starter potentially. And he was in ace level territory in 2013-14, so there is that as well, though first he was at 3.54 ERA with Braves to start 2015, then 4.35 ERA with Dodgers to end 2015, as his K/9 fell drastically (kind of a similar story like Samardzija, except that it happened with his same team, and can't be blamed on a new coach or new circumstances).
Then we get to their bigger question marks in the rotation. Ryu, also a fragile pitcher, with 30 starts in 2013, 26 starts in 2014, and missing all of 2015, is projected at 3.41 ERA, but only 16 starts. I doubt he's going to qualify in 2016, he was out all of 2015 and even when first in the majors, regularly missed 2-6 starts in a season. The Dodgers has to consider any good production from him to be a bonus. Bolsinger is projected at 3.78 ERA and Frias at 4.09 ERA. McCarthy is projected to a 3.20 ERA, but with his TJS, he'll return late in the second half, as he'll need time to rehab too. Maeda has no projections yet.
- Kazmir: 3.59 ERA projection
- Anderson: 3.58 ERA
- Wood: 3.84 ERA
- Ryu: 3.41 ERA, but he's returning from missing all of 2015 due to injury
- Bolsinger: 3.78 ERA
- Frias: 4.09 ERA
- McCarthy: 3.20 ERA, but he's returning from surgery and missing most of 2015 (5 starts projected)
Giants Rotation in 2016
Here is the Giants rotation's projections (again, ERA from 3.49 and 4.11 was the standard for a #2 starter in 2015):
- Bumgarner: 2.81 ERA (4.3 fWAR, 32 starts)
- Cueto: 3.18 ERA (3.1 fWAR, 32 starts)
- Samardzija: 3.48 ERA (2.7 fWAR, 31 starts)
- Peavy: 3.82 ERA (1.0 fWAR, 26 starts)
- Cain: 3.97 ERA (0.7 fWAR, 23 starts)
- Heston: 3.44 ERA (0.7 fWAR, 8 starts/43 appearances)
- Blackburn: 3.73 ERA (2 starts)
Plus, while each non-Kershaw Dodger starter has some sort of question mark regarding their projection in 2016, whether due to poor health history or lack of performance history, the Giants have three starters who has shown strong capabilities of delivering 200+ IP every season while performing well (Bumgarnter and Cueto) or well enough (Samardzija has the good peripherals but not the good performances, except for 2014). And Cueto is projected to be worse than he's been for a long time, if he reverts to what he had done from 2011 to Cincy in 2015, he would easily match Bumgarner's ERA projection, giving the Giants a true co-ace rotation, with both under 3 ERA, something that can't be said about LA right now.
Dodger's Big "Huh?"
Meanwhile, lets look at the Dodger's replacement plan. Their moves have drawn a big "huh?" so far. While Greinke had great peripherals, yielding a 5.9 fWAR, he performed even better than that with a 9.3 bWAR, and it is that performance that they need to replace. Here are the Steamer WAR projections for the pitchers I listed for the Dodgers above (plus I'll kick in Kershaw, since he's part of the equation at some point):
- Kershaw (his 2015 production was 7.5 WAR): 7.4 WAR (32 starts)
- Kazmir (Greinke's logical replacement): 2.7 WAR (29 starts)
- Anderson (his 2015 production was 1.5 bWAR/1.7 fWAR): 2.5 WAR (28 starts)
- Wood: 1.7 WAR (24 starts)
- Ryu: 1.9 WAR (19 starts)
- Bolsinger: 0.5 WAR (6 starts)
- Frias: 0.3 WAR (6 starts)
- McCarthy: 0.6 WAR (5 starts)
In total, Kershaw and Greinke together produced 16.8 WAR. The rest of the starters (including their relief appearances) totaled 1.4 WAR (but didn't include the guys who had one start, which would probably bring this lower). And they did not have one other starter with a WAR above 1.5.
So the Dodger's plan appears to be that, given how poor a production they got out of the rest beyond the top two of Kershaw and Greinke in 2015, they will make up for the loss of Greinke by spreading production among the rest of the starters they have now. In 2015, they got 18.2 WAR from their starting rotation per the above (subtracting for the random one starts, probably under 18.0 WAR). The total of their 2016 projected productions add up to 17.7 WAR (149 starts). Make up the last 13 starts with one of the 6 start guys (Bolsinger or Frias) and that gets them to their production in 2015, if not more. So that seems to be their plan, to spread production across the whole rotation to make up for the loss of Greinke.
This is similar to the Giants strategy in 2015, as they had Vogelsong, Petit, and Heston in reserve as replacements. It mostly worked, with Vogelsong and Heston absorbing a lot of the innings missed by those injured or needing some down time. Then they picked up Leake to help absorb some more. Things were not great in the rotation but they still won with it.
Though the starting rotation is pointed at as a major issue in 2015, it was the injuries to the lineup that they could not overcome. When you lose 3-4 of your top hitters (Pence, Aoki, Belt, Panik) over an extended period, there usually is no overcoming that, this is a key point people miss about the 2015 Giants. And there is no way any front office can plan to cover that. But even with the starting pitching we got, when we had Pence in the lineup, the team went 34-17, so we have the offense to win with, even if the pitching was not up to the standards set previously.
The Dodgers seem to hope to do the same in 2016. They are waiting for their crop of starting pitching to develop (Bolsinger, Frias, Wood in the majors, Urias, Wieland, Lee, Montas, De Leon, Holmes in the minors), and so they have been throwing short-term money to help with the transition. Meanwhile, they have a lot of young good hitters coming up and making some noise. Kershaw is a horse, but the rest of them all have question marks, and that seems to be their strategy:
- Kazmir: history of physical problems, but perhaps he's over them, since he's averaged roughly 30 starts per season in the past three seasons. Still, with only four seasons of 30 or more starts, two early in his career and two late, out of 11 seasons, plus him missing basically all of 2011-2012, it is hard not to think that he's a ticking time bomb of a pitcher, waiting to explode at some point, particularly since he'll be 32 YO for the 2016 season, and 33 is when things start to go bad for pitchers, generally.
- Anderson: 2015 was his first season in the past six seasons to reach 30+ starts. And first ever to reach 31 starts. Assuming a regular season is 32 starts, from 2010 to 2014, he missed 109 out of 160 possible starts, and mostly on a steep decline in starts year to year until 2014. Maybe at age 27 he and his doctors finally figured out what he needs to do to stay healthy. The Dodgers are betting the QO of $15.8M that he did.
- Wood: He is only 25 YO in 2016, so got some development still. After two great seasons in 2013 and 2014, he had a down season in 2015, very down, in that his K/9 went from 8.9 during those two seasons, to only 6.6 in 2015 (and 6.3 with LA). That's very similar to the drop that Samardzija had in 2015, except that the Shark 1) changed leagues, as AL yields less K's due to no pitchers hitting, 2) had problems agreeing with his pitching coach on what he needed to do, with the coach publicly stating that he screwed up, not the Shark, 3) had some issues pitching for his boyhood team, 4) had some issues when the team did not trade him to a playoff team, and 5) noted at his press conference that he was tipping off pitches near the end of the season, only fixing it in the last two starts, where he threw 16.0 IP, struck out 9 while walking zero, for an ERA of 1.13. Wood, on the other hand, was pitching for the same team where he did very well for in 2013-14, same everything except that he was striking out a lot less. And the Braves dumped him to get Henry Olivera, an unproven IFA from Cuba who was 30 YO in 2015. Olivera is projected by Steamer to produce roughly 1.0 WAR in a full season. Wood produced 2.4 bWAR in 2015, and Steamer projects 1.7 WAR in 2016 in 24 starts, or roughly 2.3 WAR in 32 starts, so he's projected to do the same in 2016 as he did in 2015.
- Ryu: Missed all of 2015 due to a shoulder injury, plus only started 30 in 2013, 26 in 2014, so it's not like he's been that much of a horse. Plus, his labrum surgery happened in May, and according to the linked article, there is an 80% chance that he returns to what he was before, but that still means 20% do not. Plus, I would think recovery from something serious like this would be at least a year, and if so, he won't be ready on Opening Day.
- Bolsinger: Nice overall results, but has never pitched a full season, though still young and entering physical prime at 28 YO in 2016. But after a great start to his season, 1.15 ERA in first five starts, he was figured out and had a 4.62 ERA over the rest of the season, covering 16 starts. That's back of rotation material, though better than a question mark.
- Frias: 4.42 ERA as a starter in 2015, has never pitched a full MLB season yet. Don't seem ready for a full MLB season yet.
- Maeda: IFA signing from Japan this off-season. He likely will need some seasoning in AAA before they are ready to bring him up to the majors mid-season. Even if he's ready by Opening Day, he's only projected, at best, to be an inning-eating middle rotation guy.
- McCarthy: Had TJS mid-2015, so he should not be ready to pitch until mid-2016, plus will need some rehab starts as well,, so he should not be much of a factor until late in the season.
Giants Final Moves
I see two more possible moves by the Giants before spring training. First off, the Giants have backloaded the contracts signed, enough that the cash payroll still has about $14M before reaching $180M (per Baer and the recent report on the exact amount the Giants paid in tax for the 2015 season, the Giants are already over the threshold and paying the tax for 2016 as well). So they could still do a bit of spending this off-season.
That could get us a nice LF, as long as the contract is backloaded some, but probably not one of the high end OF free agents like Cespedes or Gordon unless they severely defer and/or backload their 2016 salary. Some mid-range targets could be Fowler, Span, Jackson, or Parra, and each has their warts, though the only one clearly OK defensively in recent seasons is Jackson, though Span's issue could have been his injury that needed surgery last season, and might return to prior goodness, though at 32 YO, could just be age. These guys will probably need to backload some as well.
It could simply mean a return of Byrd, as he is probably hoping to get a contract in the same range as the one that we declined originally (roughly 8-9M), and he would be a good complement to Blanco. And in a lesser price range, the Giants noted that they liked De Aza. It could happen, much like how we let go of Vogelsong last off-season then brought him back once the dust had settled. And much like the addition of Morse a couple of years ago, while Blanco would be fine in LF, the addition of another LF is more about depth and the possibility of losing Pagan at some point in the season.
The Giants historically have not devoted a lot of player development towards the outfield. They have focused on other areas more than the OF (and really, the corner positions), particularly up the middle positions (C, SS, CF), not that they have not drafted guys for the corners (like Ishikawa, Schierholtz, Belt, Williamson). Historically, the Giants have traded for and then kept OF, like Winn, Ross, Pagan, Pence (Melky probably would have been too had he not been so stupid), but have signed free agents like Grissom, Tucker, Cruz, Rowand, Morse, Aoki, as well as picking up cheap free agent like Torres, Burrell, Huff, Blanco. Player development has mostly been a bust, with Schierholtz as our best developed OF, plus guys like Ortmeier, Bowker, Perez, Brown, and top prospects now of Williamson and Parker. Is the last one really Chili Davis? And I had really high hopes for Brown too, but he fizzled out.
My best guess speculation is that they are hoping to get someone better on the cheap, like the Cards did with Beltran after the 2011 season, when he ran out of suitors and took the Cards deal. An article by Haft quoting Evans notes and contrasts how the Giants moved relatively fast for the pitchers, but in this article, Evans clearly shows that they are waiting for some deals to be made first, among the top tier of OFs, before moving on the tier that they want to move in.
In any case, I still believe that the Giants are still open to Lincecum returning as our long relief/spot starter, with the ultimate goal of making him a super-utility reliever, like the way he was employed in the 2012 playoffs. They have not publicly wrote him off yet, unlike how they said Vogelsong would not be returning after the two big signings. And they said that they will be attending Timmy's showcase. And they noted this near the end of the season (reported by Baggarly):
There wasn’t an opportunity for Tim Lincecum to acknowledge the fans, as he had hoped. But there’s still a chance he’ll be back this weekend.
In any event, a goodbye might not be necessary. The interest is mutual and strong to re-sign Lincecum, from what I’m told. It’s more a matter of when, how much and in what form, rather than if.Lincecum wants to start but I just don't see any team offering him more than a minor league invite with the chance to win a role in spring training, much like Kazmir had to do with Cleveland to get back into the majors after missing years due to injury, after years of poor performances. Lincecum has had four seasons of poor overall results, which seems to be all that fans are focused on. And I suspect teams are likewise focused on that as well.
However, if you look at his seasonal progression, basically he's been one of our better pitchers over extended periods of time, until his body could not hold up anymore, at which point he puts in his bad performances and ruin his seasonal numbers. This is why I think a now physically healthy Lincecum could excel in a super-utility role with a team, as the lessened work load would help to keep the wear and tear down, and the team could rest him until he's ready again. Had he been OK with a relief role, I think there would be a line of teams hoping to sign him, but if he holds to the starting role stipulation, he's not going to get any offers beyond a minor league deal, except from the Giants for long relief/spot starter on the 25-man, probably at the same contract that Vogelsong got last off-season.
Will he return? I think his preference for a starting role will limit his opportunities, that would drive most teams away, and even those who think that he's healthy now will look at his numbers and not offer much. Given this and the Giants not yet writing off him returning to the Giants, I have to think that there is an 80% chance of him returning to the team, with the odd chance that perhaps a team out there really still believes in him and will give him that chance to start. Apparently the Marlins have mentioned interest in Lincecum as a starter, so who knows, they grabbed Bonds already, maybe they want another Giants icon?
But will that team also give him an MLB contract at the same time? Assuming his showcase goes well, I expect the Giants to offer the Vogie-deal to Lincecum to take on Vogie's role, with no need to fight for that role, a guaranteed MLB roster spot. Will Lincecum forsake that and take a minor league deal with another team to battle for a spot, with no guarantees of anything? (most probably he will want an out if the team does not place him on the 25-man roster) I'm not sure which he would chose, but it's hard to turn down $3-5M vs. potentially getting DFAed for nothing, but, who knows, maybe he really wants to start, and is willing to take that chance in order to be a starter again.
If we are able to get him, and he can do what I think he can, our bullpen would be that much more shutdown than if we had Heston in there as the long reliever, since Lincecum could handle multiple bullpen roles due to his ability to recover fast with his arm. That would further improve our chances of winning another one. Hopefully he will see the light with this move to get Span and want to come back in hopes of enjoying another championship.