If it seems like the Giants’ pitching has gotten worse over the last couple of months, you are not crazy.
Over the first three months of the season the Giants have gone from a starting pitching ERA under 3.40 (in the midst of when Tim Lincecum was the worst pitcher in baseball) to averaging a full run worse than that over the last three months. It hasn’t been pretty.
Giants starters have managed to record just five quality starts in the last 16 games. That’s just 31%. For comparison, they managed to record quality starts in 55% of the previous 126 games.
For a team that is built around elite starting pitching — and won a World Series with that formula — it’s a bit disorienting. Even if they still manage to win games when the pitching is less than lights out.
So how did the Giants get to this point and does it seem realistic that they can get better?
Early in the year the pitching staff’s problem was Lincecum, who posted an ERA over 5 in every month until July. Barry Zito would do Zitoish things, while the rest of the starting staff carried the team. Once the calendar turned to August it was Ryan Vogelsong’s turn to become the worst pitcher in baseball, while everyone else pitched well (with Zito continuing to do Zitoish things). In September the wheels have come off, as Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner have joined Vogelsong with inflated ERAs.
There hasn’t been a point with all five guys in the rotation pitching well, but there is hope that maybe it can be turned around.
The bright side is that the unit’s peripheral numbers have all been pretty stable up to this point — with the exception that in August the batting average on balls in play (BABIP) has spiked to .347. That spike, in combination with the lowest strand rate of the season, probably goes a long way in explaining why they have looked so bad lately. Luckily this is something that has little bearing on what to expect going forward. With the talent level of these guys, improvement in this area is likely.
The other bright side is there is finally a light at the end of the tunnel. After five and a half long months the regular season is in its final stretch. As of right now, the Giants pitching staff has thrown the second most innings in the National League behind the Phillies. The amazing part is all but six of those innings have been thrown by the primary five guys in the rotation. After the long season I can imagine that these guys’ arms are pretty tired.
Through last night’s game the Giants have a six-game lead in the National League West and a magic number of 15. With a few more wins and Dodgers losses they have the division essentially locked up and have a chance to give their starting pitchers a bit of a breather before the postseason.
With a chance to rest up a little bit and a reversal of bad luck, this should be the stellar pitching staff that we have come to expect once again.