On Friday, I asked you to choose between Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum, then sat back as everyone peeled back the skulls of their rivals like a tin of Spam. It was good, clean, chaotic fun. There was an unintended consequence I wasn't prepared for, though. Turns out that there are a lot of folks out there who think both Cain and Lincecum should be in the 2016 rotation, and that the odd pitcher out should be Jake Peavy.
This was a fascinating discovery. After a rough start to the 2015 season, which was easy enough to blame on injuries, Peavy was solid for the Giants. If you go by adjusted ERA, he was a tick above average. Average pitchers tend to make $50 million or more on the open market, and if you look back in San Francisco history for pitchers with 15 starts or more and above-average run prevention, you'll find a lot of pitchers who fill you with happy-fun memories. Not all of them were All-Stars, but none of them had to scramble for a rotation spot the next season, either.
It would appear that we're underrating Peavy. He averaged just over 5⅔ innings per start, which seems hard to believe, because it feels like he pitched 5⅓ innings in every start. His distribution of starts, by innings pitched:
- Exactly seven innings (3)
- Six-plus innings (9)
- Five-plus innings (5)
- Four-plus innings (1)
- Three-plus innings or fewer (1)
In almost half of his starts, Peavy pitched well enough to get into the sixth inning, but not well enough to escape. Only twice did he get bombed out of the game before the fifth, and in the games where he pitched between five and six innings, the Giants had a winning record.
Peavy is a sneaky, sneaky innings-eater is what he is. He makes you think that he's shredding bullpens because he's not giving them the night off -- as in, ever -- but he also wasn't Yusmeiro Petit-bait, either. It was very, very noticeable last year because the Giants had a bunch of five-inning-and-done pitchers, especially when Chris Heston tired. The bullpen was running on fumes, and then Jean Machi was gone, so they couldn't even run on those. It was Madison Bumgarner, then three or four rough bullpen days, depending on who was hot. Peavy didn't help with that.
These are the new Giants, though, with scores of millions going to pitchers who had better not chew up the bullpen, at least not in the first year. Jeff Samardzija led the AL in earned runs, as we're fond of pointing out, but he also pitched into the sixth inning in 25 of his 32 starts, including 19 games with seven innings pitched or more. That's right about what Bumgarner did (he had one more six-inning start), so the Giants have been planning ahead. Johnny Cueto stumbled at the end of last year, but he still threw 200-plus innings for the second year in a row (and third season in the last four).
Long theory short: We'll probably pay less attention to Peavy's inability to get the Giants into the seventh inning. If he can do exactly what he did last year, the Giants will be fine. The biggest problem last year was that he was the Giants' #2 starter. As a #4, he makes a whole mess more sense.
And, yes, I would trust him more than Lincecum or Cain, hypothetically.
Last year, I was far too optimistic about Peavy's health, but not optimistic enough about his ability to prevent runs:
Jake Peavy, 2015 (projected)
He didn't pitch from April 17 until July 3, but he still ended up with decent numbers:
Jake Peavy, 2015 (actual)
If you're pessimistic about Peavy, here's what you're thinking about:
- His undistinguished 2014 postseason
- His ugly start to the 2015 season
- That bit up there where he doesn't get into the seventh inning
And that's it. Because Peavy has made 31 starts with the Giants now, not including the postseason, and he has a 2.99 ERA in 189 innings. You would be wise to check the FIP instead of the ERA, but even then, he's at 3.52, which is more than acceptable. He might be one of the better pitchers on the free agent market after this season if you can believe it, which helps explain why the Giants pounced on Cueto and Samardzija this season.
I will make one concession, though: He's kind of a drag to watch pitch. As in, he can grind grind grind like Vogelsong did, with his entire pitching philosophy revolving around never giving in to the batter, but he has the command to do it in every outing. So he does it in every outing. Which can get mighty tedious to watch. Baseball games are already three hours, you know.
Still, I'll stick with the obvious outcome. If Peavy is healthy, he'll be fine. And if the Giants' lineup is as deep as we're expecting, fine is fine. I'm fine with fine, especially if the rotation really is improved.
Jake Peavy, 2016 projection