Who Has The Better Rotation: Giants or Dodgers?


Let’s start with the “duh’s,” shall we? Obviously Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw create an extremely formidable duo, which is precisely why Dodgers’ management added the 2009 Cy Young award winner to their rotation. Who wouldn’t pass up a chance to pair Greinke and Kershaw? With the best southpaw in baseball paired with an elite right-hander, I don’t think Dodgers’ fans could ask for much more.

We also can’t forget about the Giants’ rotation; the same rotation that, over the past three years, has led them to a pair of championships.

While Greinke and Kershaw are seemingly the more appealing duo, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner also make for a nifty pair.

One word of advice: don’t defer to the simple “eye test” here. Yes, Kershaw and Greinke are both Cy Young award winners, all-stars, and so on. But Cain and Bumgarner would beg to differ. Refer to the table below:

(FIP/ERA Since 2010)
Kershaw: 2.81/2.56
Greinke: 3.16/3.83
Bumgarner: 3.21/3.23
Cain: 3.32/2.94

As you can see (I hope), it’s not like the Dodgers’ duo is on an entirely different planet. Instead, they’re just a tad better, which would be expected.

Cain, who had a career-year in 2012, will be labeled as the ace of San Francisco ‘s rotation, a change from the usual Tim Lincecum. The durable right-hander posted a career-best 2.79 ERA in 2012, and won 16 games as well which is also a career-high.

Then again, Cain’s always been a reliable asset. There isn’t an outlier on his baseball card when speaking of his ERA. His 2012 campaign was simply higher-regarded because he saw an uptick in run support which led to a few more wins.

Oct 7, 2012; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner (40) before game two against the Cincinnati Reds of the 2012 NLDS at AT

As for Bumgarner, he tailed off towards the end of the season. Fatigue, mechanical issues, and overuse of his slider all played a role in his collapse, which saw him post a 5.89 ERA from August 25th to the conclusion of the season.

Still, Bumgarner’s overall ERA of 3.37 isn’t too shabby, to be sure. And he did come up big in the World Series to erase some of the big times. So that’s a reasonable exchange considering the circumstances.

However, it’s not the front-end of the Dodgers’ or Giants’ rotations that provide clear insight to the point where you can provide a definite “yes” when asked which one’s better. So, the overall depth of each team’s rotation will be the deciding factor.

Again, the Dodgers’ depth consists of more flashier names. Take Josh Beckett for example. He used to be one of the best righties in baseball. Since 2008, however, he has complied a 4.11 ERA, which includes an impressive 2011 season.

Of course Beckett’s 2011 campaign deserves praise. He rendered a 2.89 ERA, which in my book is indeed flashy. Though 2011 seems to be just an after thought stacked up against his bad clubhouse reputation and a few dreadful years mixed in. Yes, he did total a 2.93 ERA with Los Angeles after coming over from the Red Sox in August, but his durability and overall effectiveness is rapidly weakening.

Oct 27, 2012; Detroit, MI, USA; San Francisco Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum throws a pitch in the 7th inning against the Detroit Tigers during game three of the 2012 World Series at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

In a way, Lincecum and Beckett are in a similar situation. Lincecum’s fastball velocity fell a bit in 2012, and his walk rate checked in at an inflated 4.4 (career-worst) per nine innings. That, on top of his 2.11 SO/BB rate (career-worst), creates some concern that the Lincecum of old may be gone for good.

Obviously the “Freak” boasts much more upside to revert to his best form than Beckett does, however. For one, there’s about a four year age differential. Lincecum is 28 while Beckett is 32 years-old. Secondly, 2012 was Lincecum’s first bad year, whereas Beckett has been on the decline for the majority of the past five seasons. It will take one more disastrous season from Lincecum to put him on Beckett’s level.

So Beckett and Lincecum are the wild cards for the Dodgers and Giants, respectively. While we’re on the topic of wild cards, Chad Billingsley and Barry Zito should be thrown under this category as well.

Mark Saxon of ESPN Los Angeles reported in early December that manager Don Mattingly feels that Billingsley, who missed the final month of the season with an elbow injury, could be healthy next season. I would take that with a bit more than a grain of sand as Mattingly did seem to be a bit more optimistic than pessimistic.

If indeed Billingsley is ready to go come opening day, he will provide the Dodgers with a quality arm who would be a fixture in the fourth or fifth spot in their rotation. A fourth or fifth starter who sports a career ERA of 3.66 like Billingsley is indeed quality.

Zito, meanwhile, brings an interesting story to follow. His iconic start against the Cardinals in Game 5 of the NLCS negated many of the bad memories he has provided Giants’ fans with since signing with the team in the winter of 2006. Then, his solid start against Justin Verlander in Game 1 of the World Series cleared the slate even more so.

But the thing is, the likelihood of Zito mirroring his two memorable playoffs starts over a full season are practically zero. While everyone can dream every once and awhile, the lefty will probably post a typical Zito 4.00 to 4.50 ERA, which isn’t terribly bad for a fourth or fifth starter, but wouldn’t be able to match Billingsley if he’s healthy. So, point Dodgers.

Oct 28, 2012; Detroit, MI, USA; San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Matt Cain (18) talks to the media after winning the 2012 World Series against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. The Giants won 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Perhaps Ryu Hyun-jin can be deemed a wild card too. Though until he actually takes a big league mound, there’s not much evidence to support any statement other than the fact that he was very successful on the international scene. Long-term speaking, he could be a bargain given the fact that he will make just six million per year over the next six seasons. Still, there isn’t much room for judging at the moment.

The Grand Conclusion

The Giants’ and Dodgers’ respective rotations both consist of a fair share of “wild cards.” To recap, the Giants have Lincecum and Zito for their wild cards, while the Dodgers have Billingsley, Ryu, and Beckett in their wild card crop.

However, the Dodgers’ wild cards have more upside than the Giants’ wild cards. Billingsley boasts front of the rotation type stuff when he’s clicking, and if Ryu lives up to his potential, he could very well be a front-end of the rotation pitcher as well. In other words, the Dodgers would be loaded if everything goes according to plan.

On the other side of the coin, Zito isn’t expected to contribute much more than a 4.00 ERA, and give the Giants a chance to win. There’s certainly a window of opportunity for Lincecum to revert to dominant form, however.

So, if Los Angeles’s staff is healthy, they’re the better rotation by a slim margin. They have front of the rotation starters on most teams at the back-end of their rotation. Not only does that attest to the sheer quality of their front-end, but also to their depth.