Most of the focus on San Francisco Giants is on the offense, and rightfully so. Barry Bonds, and to a lesser extent his fellow batters, is the thunder and lightening of the Giants' storm. But you know that calm before the storm? That's the Giants pitchers. Silent, but crucial. Even if Bonds is healthy and raining bombs opponents won't need their umbrellas unless the Giants pitchers are effective in 2006.
1. Other than the physical and mental state of a certain slugging left fielder, Jason Schmidt is the biggest question mark for the Giants. Jason Schmidt averaged over 200 innings and 218 strikeouts per season from 2002-2004. He injured his groin in an August 2004 start against the Montreal Expos and hasn't been the same since, posting a 4.53 ERA in 38 starts since the injury. Schmidt has lost the explosiveness and precision point control on both his fastball and slider. It is unlikely that Schmidt ever returns to his peak form, but Pecota projects him to be nearly twice as effective in terms of WARP in 2006 as he was in 2005. In my mind the Giants can't ask for much more than that.
2. Noah Lowry emerged as the Giants No. 1 starter down the stretch thanks to an impressive second half. For seven weeks Lowry was especially exceptional. Beginning July 15th at Dodger Stadium, Lowry put up an ERA of 1.67 in 10 starts while striking out nearly a batter per inning. I'm doubtful Lowry will continue his magic because his peripherals are not outstanding. Still an ERA around 4 in 180 innings is not too much to expect from Lowry. For Lowry to continue his development and become a top half of the rotation starter, he needs to add a pitch to his arsenal that can help him survive on the days his deceptive changeup is not at its best.
3. I was very much against the Matt Morris signing. Not because of anything about Morris specifically. He's 31 and a work horse who should be good for 180 or so innings. He's adjusted his pitching style due to injury and has remained rather successful. He is consistently a league average pitcher. My problem with the Morris signing was the amount of money (3 years/$21 million) they gave Morris. Brett Tomko has been a better pitcher then Morris the last two years according to WARP. I'm as much fed up with Tomko as any Giants fan and I'll admit that I think Morris is likely to be the better pitcher in 2006 (Pecota agrees), but I don't think the difference will be significant enough to justify giving Morris $21 million for three years when they could've had Tomko for $9 over two years. Well, at least Morris has a cool beard.
4. Matt Cain broke into the Giants rotation as a 20 year old in 2005 and pitched as well as any sub-21 year old save King Felix. I think reality could hit Cain hard in 2006 if he starts the year in the Giants rotation. Cain's whip of .93 is impossible for anyone to sustain in extended innings, but it was a major fluke for someone like Cain who had rather modest strikeout numbers. The fact that he was in the majors at age 20 and didn't get shelled mean's Cain has a pretty good shot at being at least a decent pitcher, but that doesn't mean he's ready to be good right now. He still has control issues and he might be better off starting the year in the triple-A. With how he pitched at the end of last year, that is very unlikely.
5. The back of the rotation is where cheap young starters should have the opportunity to make their mark. Brad Hennessey is both and he carved out a spot in the rotation last year. If you expected the Giants to sit there and let a young guy start the year in the rotation, well obvious you don't know the Giants. Actually, signing Jamey Wright and giving him the fifth starter job was not a terrible thing. Hennessey's peripherals weren't great last year as his ERA should've been around 5. When you make adjustments for home park and playing time, Wright was the better pitcher last year and deserves the first crack at starting
Bullpen: With everything that went wrong last year, the bullpen seemed to be the one part of the team that didn't disappoint on a daily basis. That being said, Armando Benitez going down with an injury in April is the definition of irony. I was against the Benitez signing from the beginning for all the same reasons no one on this site would overpay a closer, they just don't pitch enough innings. The Giants should be glad to have Benitez back healthy in 2006 and he will make the bullpen better then it was last year because everyone else can slide a step down in rank as he moves back into the closer position, but that still doesn't mean it was a good signing. OK, I'm off my soap box.
Tyler Walker is the Giants setup guy. Like any pitcher with great velocity who isn't closing, it's because of his control and shakiness in the ninth inning. Scott Munter might be 10 feet tall and he generates a lot of groundballs, but can he continue to pitch well without striking anyone out? The Danny Kolb time bomb is ticking for him. Jack Taschner looks like he'll be the No. 1 lefty out of the pen. Pecota predicts he will be out of baseball in 3 years and he's only 27, I hope no one had high hopes for him. Merkin Valdez has been one of the Giants top prospects for several years even though he may actually be 36 and pitched in the majors previously under a different name. I just wonder if this is the year he is finally ready. Tim Worrell's mental breakdown in Philadelphia probably stemmed from his .446 BABIP. Actually I don't know what it was, but he bounced back in Arizona and can still contribute. And as long as they're bringing back former pitchers, can Mark Gardner please slide into that fifth starter spot. All he has to do is keep the ball down.
So what does it all mean?
Most of the attention on the Giants has been on Bonds, but for them to have success on the field, the pitching must play as big a role if not bigger then the hitting. Bonds and Alou are going to spend plenty of days on the bench or on the DL. I've read all the stories about how Steve Finley is rejuvenated, but he hit .222 last year and he is 41 years old. The Giants can't count on the offense to carry them like it once did unless Bonds gets a knee transplant or something. If the Giants are to make it to the playoffs in 2006 it will be because of the team's pitching or because everyone within a five mile radius of Chavez Ravine who can possibly pitch tears his rotator cuff. Either way I'll be happy.