Giants’ Starting Pitching Now A Major Concern?


August 13, 2012; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey (28), first baseman Brandon Belt (9), second baseman Ryan Theriot (5) and starting pitcher Ryan Vogelsong (32) meet at the pitcher

Usually, the starting pitching takes the backseat on the list of concerns for the Giants. Now, it has taken the very front seat, and the Giants’ bread and butter is no longer a guarantee anymore. Due to this, the bullpen has had to take on a bigger role, and signs of fatigue are occurring.

Even with the likes of Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, and Ryan Vogelsong all getting their starts, the starters have pitched just 36 innings over the last seven days. Generally, that number would near 50. But nothing has been general lately as no Giants’ starter has pitched more than seven innings since last Tuesday. Matt Cain pitched 7.1 innings against the Astros, and that has been all.

On the bright side, the bullpen hasn’t collapsed in this time of over usage. They have totaled a 2.79 ERA over the past seven days, but note that all of their relievers have combined to pitch 29 innings. That’s only seven less than the starters. In comparison, the Rockies’ bullpen ranks second in baseball with 27.2 innings pitched, and they don’t let their starters surpass the 75 pitch plateau, while the Giants don’t put any restrictions on their starters.  Any time a team is mentioned with the Rockies, the likelihood of it being positive is very slim. The case is no different in this situation.

However, the September roster expansions will provide manager Bruce Bochy with a few more alternatives should this dreadful streak continue. Those alternatives, though, aren’t nearly as reliable as say Sergio Romo or Javier Lopez. Jean Machi, the 30 year-old career minor leaguer, owns a 10.80 ERA in his first three appearances since being called up. Dan Otero has pitched two scoreless innings since getting a promotion. Granted, his ERA still isn’t respectable at 6.97, but he has smoothed out the flaws in his motion. But none of the call ups can undertake such a massive role. And using such a strategy wouldn’t be wise on the Giants part.

Unfortunately, Bruce Bochy has had no other choice but to empty his bullpen. He tied a major league record on Tuesday night against Arizona when he used 11 pitchers in an 8-6 loss. Simply, the over usage falls on the starters’ shoulders.

The always consistent Ryan Vogelsong has only logged 9.1 innings in his last two starts  and during that span he has posted an inflated 9.64 ERA. Madison Bumgarner has a 6.48 ERA in his last three starts. Tim Lincecum has only pitched seven innings once since August 5th, and the inconsistent Barry Zito owns a 6.56 ERA in his last seven starts.

The problem?

Big innings. Usually that problem only implies to Lincecum, but now that issue has seemed to catch on with the rest of the staff. Big innings can also mean high pitch count innings where the starter has to use 25+ pitches to get the three outs and multiple runs come across the plate to score.

It may be hard to believe, but the Giants’ starters might be throwing too many strikes. Bumgarner has had this problem before, Ryan Vogelsong tends to over rely on his fastball as opposed to Barry Zito and Tim Lincecum who walk batters to put runners on the base paths. Matt Cain, meanwhile, tends to fall in the latter category when he does struggle.

But the point is that opposing hitters know that Giants’ pitchers like to throw strikes. It’s not such a bad thing, but it’s not a great trend to follow either.

If the Giants want to hang on to their 4.5 game lead in the N.L West, their starting pitching must improve. It’s what the organization has prided themselves on for the past few years, and that can’t change given their inconsistent offense.