San Francisco Giants: A Look at the Rotation Heading into 2017

Oct 5, 2016; New York City, NY, USA; San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner (right) and catcher Buster Posey (left) celebrate the win against the New York Mets in the National League wild card playoff baseball game at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 5, 2016; New York City, NY, USA; San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner (right) and catcher Buster Posey (left) celebrate the win against the New York Mets in the National League wild card playoff baseball game at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports /

A year after rebuilding the rotation behind their stud ace, the San Francisco Giants enter the 2017 season with high hopes for their starting five.

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Like many recent years past for the San Francisco Giants, their starting pitching was a huge reason for their success in 2016. Their starters threw the third-most innings in baseball at 982.1, and were fifth in ERA (3.71) and third in WHIP (1.20). Even despite entering the year with big question marks at the backend of the rotation, the group turned in a fine season.

They will enter 2017 in a better position than they entered in 2016. Madison Bumgarner is still leading the charge for the Giants, a season after the best year of his career. He set career-bests in ERA (2.74), innings pitched (226.2), and strikeouts (251, a franchise record for left-handers).

Behind the massive left-hander is Johnny Cueto, coming into his second (and possibly last) season with the Giants after signing a huge contract after the 2015 season. Cueto pieced together a tremendous year for the orange and black, pitching to a 2.79 ERA, 1.093 WHIP, 195 strikeouts, and a league-leading five complete games. A year after the team struggled to fill the rotation behind Bumgarner, Cueto became a second ace for the team.

Jeff Samardzija is also entering his second year with the Giants, and suffered his fair share of ups and downs during the first season. The ups outweighed the down, and he showed marked improvements over a 2015 season that saw him give up more hits, earned runs, and home runs than anyone else in the American League. His 3.81 ERA in 2016 was more than a full run lower than the previous season, and his FIP and ERA+ also showed upward trajectories. He finished the season on a high note after reviving a long-forgotten curveball, throwing to a 2.45 ERA in his last 10 starts while allowing just three home runs in 62.1 innings.

The trio of Bumgarner, Cueto, and Samardzija all threw over 200 innings in 2016, making up half of the six National League pitchers to surpass that total. For Bumgarner it was his sixth consecutive season over 200 innings, while Samardzija has gone four straight years. It was Cueto’s third straight year over 200.

They will enter next season in a better position because of the deadline acquisition of Matt Moore. The former Rays’ lefty came over and took a while to settle in, but got into a groove and finished the year with some fantastic starts.

Along with the near no-hitter against the Los Angeles Dodgers in August, his last two starts of the regular season saw him give up just two runs in 15.2 innings while striking out 17. There was also NLDS game four, when he held the Chicago Cubs to two runs over eight innings with 10 strikeouts. A full season of Moore should be an exciting proposition for Giants’ fans.

That quartet will combine to make one of the best groups of four in a rotation in the majors. There is still a question mark in the rotation, however. That comes in the fifth and final spot.

With Jake Peavy now a free agent and certainly headed elsewhere to compete for a job, Matt Cain is the lead dog for the final spot in the rotation. This is unpopular among fans, certainly, but the Giants owe Cain over $20 million in 2017, and they will want to put it to good use. He also has built up a ton of good will with the team over the years, and the Giants will give him every chance they can to prove that he is still capable.

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If he isn’t capable, the Giants do have a number of other options that can fill that role. With Chris Heston traded to Seattle, Ty Blach and Albert Suarez figure to be the top two options behind Cain. Blach, now 26 years old, made his major league debut in September last year after a stellar campaign at Triple-A Sacramento, and wasted no time impressing everyone that watched. From his relief appearances to his game number 161 start where he outdueled Clayton Kershaw, Blach made a mighty fine first impression.

Suarez also made his major league debut last season after spending roughly a decade bouncing around in the minors, and was also quite impressive. With a hard sinker and capable curveball, Suarez helped the Giants both as a starter and a long reliever. He made 12 starts, and while he wasn’t exactly overwhelming, he was fairly consistent. He didn’t give up more than three runs in any of those 12 starts. For a 26-year-old non-roster invitee, Suarez proved that he is an asset to the team.

There is also Chris Stratton, who made his major league debut in 2016 as well. He pitched out of the bullpen, but has mostly spent his entire minor league career as a starter. And of course, starting pitching can’t be mentioned with Tyler Beede. The Giants’ top pitching prospect spent all of last season at Double-A, and put together a fantastic year. He posted a 2.81 ERA while cutting down on his walks and raising his strikeouts from 6.1 per nine innings in 2015 to 8.2 in 2016. Though he is likely still a little ways away, he will probably begin 2016 at Triple-A and not be far away from his first major league call-up.

Next: Giants: A Look at the Current Bench

Again, the Giants’ rotation looks like it will be a strength, especially in the first four spots. If the team can get anything close to league average performance from Cain, or any other pitcher that takes that five-hole, this will be a dangerous group of starters. With a new-look (and hopefully improved) bullpen, the Giants’ entire pitching staff should be the focal point for the team as they look to make another big run in the National League.