San Francisco Giants: Longevity of Rotation Arms a Future Concern?


Turning the San Francisco Giants franchise around from 2007 to 2012, Tim Lincecum had a short window of domination. Should this concern future Giants’ pitchers in the rotation?

Looking for a shoulder to lean on after Giants’ franchise player and MLB legend Barry Bonds retired, the youngster out of the University of Washington, Tim Lincecum, put the Giants on the right path. Failing to reach the postseason between 2003 and 2009, times were hard and Matt Cain and Lincecum were the catalysts of the rotation and highly depended on.

But it begs the question — was the pressure of restoring a franchise in the post-Bonds era too much for Cain and Lincecum early on in their careers?

In 2014 and 2015, both endured their own injuries that required them to sit out a good portion of the year, as well as surgery — a hip for Lincecum and a nagging elbow for Cain. For Lincecum, with an unorthodox delivery, it was a safe assumption that at some point, throwing issues were going to occur. As for Cain, the elbow issue was an ongoing problem that he learned to pitch around until it got to the point where it was too much to deal with.

Cain is often called the “Horse” for his ability to get himself out of jams and challenge the hitters. The mentality that comes with that nickname entails a lot of pitches and innings thrown. In today’s game, Cain would be considered an innings eater.

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Lincecum too, despite being a power-pitcher, put in a lot of innings early on in his career, throwing at least 212 inning per season for 2008 to 2011.

In San Francisco’s first world championship since the move from New York, Lincecum, Cain, and rookie pitcher, Madison Bumgarner led the Giants’ rotation in stunning fashion in 2010. Lincecum kicked off the postseason with a performance for the ages against the Atlanta Braves and finished what he started in game five of the World Series against the Texas Rangers.

Fast forward to 2016 and Lincecum is still sitting in the free agent pool and Cain’s availability and productivity is still a question for this season. With Bumgarner being the franchise pitcher and ace of the staff, and throwing more than 270 innings in 2014 between the regular season and postseason, could we see a familiar downturn like Lincecum and Cain and longevity concerns?

San Francisco Giants
Sep 29, 2015; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner (40) on the mound after allowing tow back to back home runs by the Los Angeles Dodgers during the sixth inning at AT&T Park. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports /

2015 proved Bumgarner is nowhere near a decline, even though the support in the rotation has been significantly thin the past two seasons. To give Bumgarner a bit of a breather and to take some of the pressure off, the Giants went out this offseason and got Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija in the free agent market. Throwing down over $200 million, the Giants have shown how serious they are about their rotation and the health of its players.

With the prevalency of Tommy John Surgeries in today’s game, inning and pitch counts have become new strategies to avoid the horror of the season-long injuries. Teams have to take the extra precaution and be prepared for the worst. Today’s game is different from the game of the past.

On Tuesday, there were multiple reports of Mark Buehrle was considering retirement, despite previous reports of no decision to retire or sign with a team. Serving over 16 years between the Chicago White Sox, Miami Marlins, and the Toronto Blue Jays, he has been a model of good health and consistency throughout a career. Not known for striking guys out, Buehrle used his creativity to get outs, controlled his pitch count, and racked up wins — most importantly in hitters ballparks and divisions.

Other examples of consistent players throughout a career were Randy Johnson, Jamie Moyer, former Giant Tim Hudson, and current major leaguer Bartolo Colon. The game of baseball may never see longevity to the degree these players showed.

Today, there are many great pitchers in the game, but with the growing concern of overpitching young players, six to seven man rotations or larger bullpens are the newest strategies. Whether one is a realist or not, the game has changed and the frequency of injury is alarming.

One indicator that could be affecting pitchers today is the existence of year-round baseball. Some players have their seasons end in September, and some are selected to continue playing in the Arizona Fall league and Winter Leagues. The body needs a break.

In youth sports, baseball occurred late March to July — fourth months — while fall baseball was optional in September.

For youngsters or aging players making a comeback in the minor league system, some could average nine to ten months of throwing and no time to rest other than the days off in the rotation. Baseball should explore eliminating Winter ball and keeping the Fall league. Arm fatigue from yearly throwing may be an issue worth investigating.

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For 2016, the Giants have a projected rotation of: Bumgarner, Cueto, Samardzija, Jake Peavy, and Cain. On the outside looking in — as a day off start or injury replacement — Chris Heston and Clayton Blackburn are the Giants current options after the dismissal of Yusmeiro Petit, who signed with the Washington Nationals. Also in the farm system, Giants have Phil Bickford, Tyler Beede, and Ty Blach as alternate options.

Will the Giants remain in a standard five-man rotation in the forseeable future? Presumably yes. With mileage on Peavy and Cain’s arms, Bruce Bochy and Dave Righetti may have to discuss a new approach to get the best out of the rotation that has lacked depth the past two seasons. With Cueto’s contract setup, there is the possibility he explores a larger contract to return or go elsewhere with the two year opt-out clause. This could put the Giants in position to search for another arm in the future.

Next: San Francisco Giants Positional Preview: Left Field

With a potential Hall-of-Fame worthy career in Bumgarner, this offseason, the front office made a tremendous approach to get him the help he needs to hold off the longevity concerns for himself and the Giants rotation beyond 2016.