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Figuring out the back of the rotation when Cueto and Samardzija return

Two Giants are going to lose their starting rotation jobs when everyone is healthy. Who deserves to keep theirs?

San Diego Padres v San Francisco Giants Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images

The plan at the beginning of the season was to put Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto, and Jeff Samardzija at the top of the rotation and then figure it out from there. The Giants had five guys who could fill those last two spots, but none of them projected to be much above replacement level. Then Bumgarner and Samardzija went on the disabled list before the season started, but that didn’t matter because Johnny Cueto was going to put the rotation on his back and win the Cy Young.

Then he got hurt and all seemed lost. You figured all of Chris Stratton, Tyler Beede, Andrew Suárez, and Ty Blach would make starts at some point this season. Guys would make spot starts or one would struggle while the other thrived in Sacramento. That wound up happening eleven games into the year. Instead of having the back of rotation be replacement level, the whole rotation was going to be replacement level.

For all of the troubles the Giants’ starters have faced this season, they’ve done a fine enough job holding things down until Samardzija and Cueto can come back.Before Thursday’s game, Giants starters had posted a 4.20 ERA. That includes 18 starts from Bumgarner, Samardzija, and Cueto, but if you only look at starts by Holland, Suarez, Stratton, and Rodriguez, it only goes up to 4.32. The results haven’t been that bad. If you ask Google, this is the greatest rotation the Giants have ever seen.

Each has pretty good numbers for a fifth starter, so the question is who has the best numbers for a number five?

Also, a number four. The Giants have more starting pitching depth than they’ve had in recent memory but they’re not that deep.

Who among the four shall secure the final two rotation spots when Cueto and Samardzija* return?

*Yes, Samardzija has been really bad this year. No, they’re not going to give his spot to someone else. His being bad is probably more to do with his being rushed back from injury than a sudden loss of ability. I don’t care if his rehab start went really poorly and neither should you.

Derek Holland

Holland seems like a lock for one of the spots for no other reason than he would have to consent to going to the minors. Suárez, Stratton, and Rodriguez all have options remaining, but Holland is a veteran. If he is going to lose his rotation slot, the Giants will either have to move him to the bullpen or DFA him. Neither seems entirely likely, but it’s also not impossible to imagine either.

If the Giants were to DFA him, it would most likely be to work out a trade for him. They have enough pitchers that they could stand to lose one, and in some ways, Holland is the most expendable.

I don’t see him going anywhere though. After a rocky start to the season, he’s been pretty okay as of late. His 4.24 ERA is right about where his FIP says it should be so this is as good as it gets.

Dereck Rodriguez

While Holland has the advantage of service time, Rodriguez has the disadvantage of being the new guy. He wasn’t even supposed to be here and if not for Tyler Beede imploding, he probably wouldn’t be. He has the least major league experience—Andrew Suárez has him edged out by 35 innings—and he doesn’t have the prospect pedigree despite being the son of a Hall of Famer.

Still, he might be the best of the four. His ERA and FIP are the lowest at 3.82 and 3.52 respectively, and his 4 K/BB ratio is competitive with Andrew Suárez. This all comes with the caveat that it’s only been 30 innings, and a couple bad starts could tank his shiny peripherals.

As much as I think he belongs in the rotation, he’ll probably be relegated to the bullpen.

Chris Stratton

Stratton had the greatest breakout potential coming into this year, and much of that hinged on his curveball. Not only has Stratton not thrown his curveball as often this year, but it hasn’t as effective this year. In 2017, batters hit just .116/.170/.163 against his curve. This year, they’re hitting .278/.316/.444. He’s getting 16% ground balls and 7% fewer whiffs with the curve. Without it, his other pitches are pretty mediocre.

His K/9 and BB/9 are both the worst among the other pitchers on this list, so it’s hard to think of a reason for him to stay in the rotation.

Andrew Suárez

Suárez is in a similar situation as Rodriguez in that he doesn’t have the seniority as Stratton or Holland. He’s also the youngest pitcher. But like Rodriguez, he’s also been better than the other guys. Where Suárez shines is his low walk rate. The only other pitcher to start a game for the Giants this year and have a lower walk rate is Johnny Cueto.

If there’s a knock against Suárez it’s that he has a bit of a home run problem. His HR/FB% is high even without the context of his immediate competition.

In a world without contractual obligations or service time to consider, Suarez and Rodriguez would be the two pitchers, I’d say the Giants should go to. But it’ll probably be Holland and Suárez or even Holland and Stratton. Like at the beginning of the season, they’ll all be back eventually.