Friday, April 07, 2017

Your 2017 Giants: Chances Are Awfully Good With Starting Rotation

I have normally done a huge review of what I think the Giants would do in the season (and generally before the season starts), but I've been busy.  But it's not like I turned off my brain to all this, just that I don't have all the time to get it all out there like I used to.  So I'm breaking this up into parts, where I'll discuss what I'm thinking about your 2017 Giants.  In this installment, I'm talking about how good the Giants chances are for making the playoffs and going deep, as well as the starting rotation, where it all begins for the Giants in this dynastic period.


ogc thoughts

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.

2017 Projections

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.

4 comments:

  1. I hope you are correct, but even without injuries, I see this as mostly optimistic. Being a fan I like this, As a nonbiased observer, if I were one, I would view this with much skepticism.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't really get how you can paint me as "mostly optimistic", other than that I'm positive about the situation.

      Here is what I see. I've followed the Giants for years now, and wrote about how a baseball team could be successful by having a great starting rotation. You can read about my business plan on the side, I've had it up for years now, even before we won in 2010.

      I've documented the composition of the various championship teams and other teams over the years as well, showing how that is how the Giants have been mostly successful during this dynasty period. My analysis is that having great pitching allows an average offensive team (or even sub-average) to make the playoffs, at which point, having great starting pitching (as my PQS studies have shown) is like having a cheat code in baseball. It does not guarantee you a championship - nothing in baseball can - but if you want to maximize your chances, this is the way to do it.

      I used industry projections from the one source that Fangraphs relies on, so if you want to paint him as "mostly optimistic" then I think he will say that you are the first to do so, he gets a lot more comments along the lines that "he's crazy, player XYZ will do much better!". Using those projections, the composition of the starting rotation is very similar to that to prior championship seasons, and hence my optimistic view.

      I've also shown that you don't even need to have a full rotation of great pitchers to be successful. We have basically won with 3 great pitchers, 1 average-ish pitcher (generally Zito), and a mess (generally rotating) in the last pitching spot, where the pitcher or pitchers just have a horrible ERA.

      Being positive, though, does not mean that I'm optimistic. I'm probably optimistic relative to you, you have rarely been optimistic about the Giants chances, the few times I see your comments.

      I try to approach this subject as objectively as possible. Hence why I use other people's projections that are industry standards, rather than supply my own projections, which just starts people down the path of "you're biased". . I also have used studies to show that it's not just me throwing out ideas, but a collection of studies showing that success in this way is possible.

      Where I've been too optimistic is how injuries will affect the team. That I will cop to and have admitted. I haven't figured that out yet, and probably never will. So I do what I can and present it in a post. Hopefully somebody will appreciate it.

      And, personally, as a fan, I would appreciate pessimistic projection too, as long as it is logical and makes sense. As a fan, I only want to have a great idea of how well my team will do, and if they aren't that good, I'll set my sights lower. I enjoyed the post-Bonds era, as the Giants finally stopped forcing the issue and let the pennant cycle die so that we could get good draft picks and hopefully start a new cycle afterward. And we had great picks, from Lincecum, to Bumgarner, to Posey, plus Crawford, then Belt, then Panik. I think Beede and Arroyo will join that list soon enough. And there are the other significant contributors like Romo, Blanco, Casilla, Duffy, who were unexpected contributors, complementing our core. It made me appreciate the success that grew out of the down years.

      Delete
  2. If they stay healthy I expect, like you do, for this starting rotation to be one of the best, if not the best, in baseball. That should make the Giants one of the toughest teams and give them a great shot at the post-season and a title. Not a pretty beginning to the season so far, but it's only April, and I expect they'll turn it around.

    ReplyDelete

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