I'll start out with my conclusion: I think the Giants chances are awfully good for making the playoffs and going all the way. This is similar to my thoughts every season since the start of the 2010 season. Of course, injuries has been killing this prediction, but even in the years the Giants don't make the playoffs, one can see the potential was there, if not for the injuries. But I have no way of projecting injuries and I'm not good enough to dial it back for potential injuries, so I'll just lay out my case as usual.
A large component of the Giants early dynasty success was related to the winning formula that I outlined in my business plan (link to the side) long ago: have great defense, particularly great starting pitching and fielding, plus good enough offense. When a team can limit runs allowed to be among the top 3-5 in the league, you can win enough to make the playoffs even with a subpar offense. I think the Giants have that great starting pitching rotation again.
I've discussed before how a team can have a great starting pitching rotation even though you have a roughly average starter (but who can put in a full season of innings), like Zito held that role for many years, along with a rotating cast of lousy 5th starters, and still have a great overall starting rotation. This model started in 2008 and continued for the most part until 2013-15, when first Lincecum, and then Cain and Vogelsong, lost it. It was restarted in 2016 with the signing of Cueto and Samardzija, and completed with the acquisition of Moore.
One can see that with the Fangraph ZiPS projections for the 2017 Giants. Taking the projections for Bumgarner, Cueto, Samardzija, Moore, Cain, and Blach, I get an overall projection of 997.0 IP for a 3.45 ERA overall. Moore is only projected for 22 starts, and extending that to 30 starts, that would bump up the totals to 1,022.1 IP and 3.53 ERA (Moore is projected at 3.82 ERA).
Let's compare that with 2012 and 2010:
- In 2012, the starters were Cain, Bumgarner, Vogelsong, Zito and Lincecum. The first three were great, but Zito had a 4.15 ERA and Lincecum a 5.18 ERA. However, the totals for the rotation was 987.2 IP for a 3.73 ERA.
- In 2010, the starters were Cain, Lincecum, Sanchez, Zito, and Wellemeyer/Bumgarner splitting the fifth spot. Again, the first three were great, Zito was average again, 4.15 ERA, and while Bumgarner had a 3.00 ERA, Wellemeyer started the season with a 5.68 ERA, which worked out to a 3.95 ERA. And all together, that was 998.0 IP and 3.53 ERA.
Starting Rotation Set Up to Be Great Again
As one can see, 2017's rotation shapes up to be very similar to the great rotations we had, overall, in 2010 and 2012. Even with Cain and Blach as big question marks as the fifth starter, and Moore and Samardzija as roughly average starters in the middle of the rotation, based on projections. This feels very reasonable in terms of projections:
- Bumgarner: 211.2 IP, 2.81 ERA (3 years average: 220.2 IP, 2.88 ERA)
- Cueto: 207.2 IP, 3.03 ERA (3 years average: 225.0 IP, 2.80 ERA)
- Samardzija: 188.1 IP, 3.54 ERA (3 years average: 212.1 IP, 3.91 ERA)
- Moore: 125.0 IP, 3.82 ERA (4 years average (TJS year): 105-140 IP 3.97 ERA)
- Cain: 92.2 IP, 4.56 ERA (4 years average (injuries): 106-141 IP, 4.64ERA)
- Blach: 151.2 IP, 4.27 ERA (AAA/MLB average: 172.2 IP, 3.81 ERA)
Why This Should Hold
There is a good chance that this projection should hold, barring a huge injury (and perhaps even then). First off, Cueto has been better than that projection for years now, and he had a 2.79 ERA with us last season. How's that for consistency? So that would absorb some letdown in performance by others.
Now, part of that letdown could be Samardzija, as one can see in the dichotomy above. But perhaps he could be upside as well. He had a season in three parts in 2016. First 10 starts: 71.0 IP, 2.54 ERA. Next 12 starts: 70.0 IP, 6.30 ERA. Last 10 starts: 62.1 IP, 2.45 ERA. And it was his first season with the Giants, where Righetti and Posey were learning how to handling the bucking bronco of a career that Samardzija has had as a starting pitcher. If they can lessen the down periods, well, one can see what happens when Samardzija is on: roughly 2.50 ERA in 20 starts with the Giants, 2.99 ERA overall in 2014.
The Shark could be average or he could even be the best starter in the rotation. I just realized that he's kind of like how Jonathan Sanchez was for us, up and down, best and worse. Luckily, Samardzija appears to have a much better head on his shoulder than Dirty ever did, and eager to learn to be better. Also recall how Bumgarner, early in his career, did not know how to replicate his mechanics and be successful, and how the Giants taught him, and see what he has done since, building up and learning each season (see his K/9 progression). I think that the Shark can replicate that.
And speaking of Bumgarner, look at that K/9 progression: 7.0; 8.4; 8.3; 8.9; 9.1; 9.6; 10.0. And his BB/9 has been roughly the same over the years, roughly 2.1 BB/9, and so his K/BB has risen to roughly 5.0, which is superb. And he's still only 27 YO, what some would call a player's prime period of peak physical, and thus should improve even further this season, both in terms of K/9 and ERA (which is linked). As crazy as this may seem, given how good he has been so far, he might still have a breakout year where he just have an MVP and Cy Young type season, and break Kershaw's annual bid for that award.
Moore is another like Shark, maybe up, maybe down. He had a 3.57 ERA in his first two full-ish seasons (3.29 ERA in his breakout All-Star season). Last season, he had a 4.08 ERA (amazingly, same ERA for Rays and Giants too!). But with the Giants, he had 8 DOM starts out of 12, a really good 67% DOM. And he pitched well in 10 of the 12, with back luck affecting one start and causing him to give up a lot of runs, and two really bad starts, one of which was a start in Colorado (to be expected) and another one against LA in LA (really unexpected, as they are in a pitchers park AND are very susceptible to LHP like Moore).
And Cain, I know a lot of people have given up on him, but I haven't. I think he's a huge wildcard in this setup. Of course, if he returns to his prior goodness, we have a killer rotation, top to bottom. Even if he don't, as I've shown before, if you got 3-4 good starters firing on all cyclinders, the team can still win with a poor starter in the 5th rotation spot, which is where Cain sits.
Even if he is as bad as he has been in recent years, I believe the Giants will have no problem pushing him out and first giving Blach the shot at holding the 5th spot. And after his good outing last year, I think he can. And even if he can't, Beede has been slowly rising and improving, and I think he would hold the last rotation spot, not as well as Bumgarner did in 2010, but good enough. So I think the rotation is prime to match what prior rotations have done, and perhaps take it a step further.