It took me a while to come around to Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija, but I did. Part of that is being a fan drunk on winter optimism. Part of that is being intellectually dishonest. But when I looked at them as free agent possibilities, all I saw was risk. Now that there's no option but to root for their continued success, all I see is upside. Nervous, tenuous upside.
There's another reason to be optimistic, though, and it's based in science. And it's probably what the Giants had in mind all along. FanGraphs has the Giants' starting pitchers in the middle of the pack when it comes to projected WAR. Don't get too offended: They're just two wins away from being the #6 team, and these totals include a heaping help of possible rotation fill-ins, some of whom will absolutely not see time in the majors this season. What interested me wasn't the raw projected WAR, but rather the projected innings pitched.
Here are the projected innings for the front five pitchers of every team:
|Team||Projected IP from top five|
Even with Jake Peavy and Matt Cain, the Giants' rotation is projected to throw 52 more innings than the second-place National League team.
More innings pitched doesn't have to be a good thing. Jeff Samardzija threw a ton of innings last year, but that just meant he allowed a ton of runs, too. But all things being equal, more innings pitched means fewer innings from the back of the bullpen. Fewer innings from the back of the bullpen means the front of the bullpen is rested and available for high-leverage situations.
More innings from the starting rotation makes it less likely that a team is forced to have a completely random drifter make starts. Though we shouldn't make fun of Eric Hacker too much. He does have a ring, you know.
If you're looking at the same table, but ordered by projected WAR for the front five, well, it's not quite as compelling.
|Team||Projected WAR from top 5|
Stupid Kershaw. Still, the Giants project to be in fine shape. Which is good, considering they paid an awful lot of money to be in fine shape. Boy, did they sure pay a lot of money to get here.
It's worth noting that the Giants are cognizant of Cueto's recent workload, and they're not going to liquify him this year, so his status as an innings-eater supreme might be in jeopardy. That's a feature, not a bug, though. That should make you happier about the rotation, in theory, because a rested Cueto might be an improved Cueto.
In May, the flames from this rotation might melt the ice caps, and we'll all be underwater while watching Ty Blach start both games of a doubleheader. These are just projections, after all. But they hint that the Giants have something other teams don't. And that's probably a good thing.
Just start the season already.