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Let’s cover some innings

Do the Giants have enough pitching to make it through the season?

San Diego Padres v San Francisco Giants Photo by Suzanna Mitchell/San Francisco Giants/Getty Images

It’s in the air right now, but in last week’s episode of the KROG podcast, featuring friend of the site Roger Munter and former San Francisco Giants beat writer Kerry Crowley, it really got me thinking about the team’s pitching plan for 2024.

Roger summarizes it best:

Just looking at innings — you know the classic thing, you’ve gotta cover 1,400 innings — and, you know, you can say, “Okay, maybe we’ll get 200 from Webb and-and most of those bullpen guys averaged about 60 — you know, the back of the bullpen.” So, there’s around 500 innings. It starts getting dicey after that.

We know the Giants’ pitching plan is algorithmically generated and gets into the nitty-gritty of matchups, innings, and situations, and we know that they know that they have to cover ~1,400 innings in 2024. We also probably know that they think they’ve got it all figured out — and they probably do! They front office contains the smartest minds in pro sports history. There’s no logical or mathematical blindspot in the group. That’s why we’re frequently asked to ignore results, because those cannot be predicted.

It’s all about projections which are sacrosanct because they’re unblemished by human behavior. And so we can assume that projection-wise, the Giants know they’re more than covered from an innings standpoint. Let’s see if we lowly mortals can reverse engineer their process, though, if only to assuage our fears*.

Here are the innings totals for the Giants from the last three seasons (bullpen innings in parenthesis):

2023 - 1434.2 IP (705.1 IP)
2022 - 1433 IP (650 IP)
2021 - 1455 IP (623.2 IP)

Now, the bullpen innings sorting gets a bit tricky because of the way the Giants use their pitchers. For instance, Ryan Walker qualifies as a starter for FanGraphs’ purposes thanks to his 13 starts/openings. That’s two more than Ross Stripling (11) and Sean Manaea (10), but we both considered them to be “starters” and Ryan Walker a “reliever.” So, please forgive the slight disparity in my innings breakdown from 2023.

STARTERS

Logan Webb, 216 IP
Alex Cobb, 151.1 IP
Anthony DeSclafani, 99.2 IP
Sean Manaea, 117.2 IP
Alex Wood, 97.2 IP
Ross Stripling, 89 IP
Tristan Beck, 85 IP
Keaton Winn, 42.1 IP
Kyle Harrison, 34.2 IP

=933.1

RELIEVERS

Camilo Doval, 67.2 IP
Tyler Rogers, 74 IP
Ryan Walker, 61.1 IP
Taylor Rogers, 51.2 IP
Scott Alexander, 48.1 IP
Jakob Junis, 86 IP
John Brebbia, 38.1 IP
Luke Jackson, 33.1 IP
Sean Hjelle, 29 IP
Maurico Llovera, 5.1 IP
Cole Waites, 2.1 IP
Position players, 4 IP

= 501.1 IP

And, again, there’s some uncertainty here. Beck probably was more reliever than starter last season. Keaton Winn, too. Alex Wood especially. But I think we “perceived” them as being starters who were being used in a relief role, just as we did with Manaea and Stripling.

But the upside of muddying these distinctions is that the team gets to maximize usage. Players providing peak performance as efficiently as possible (usually in shorter bursts). We can see the logic in that and the results backed it up.

After a really bad April, the Giants sorted things out and were the 4th-most valuable pitching staff in MLB from May through July (9.7 fWAR). And then, as you’ll recall, they fell off a cliff over the final two months of the season, dropping to 22nd (3.9 fWAR). Did they over-scheme and over-open the staff to exhaustion? Possibly. They also had to deal with injuries (DeSclafani, Cobb), ineffectiveness (Stripling, Wood), and the limitations of folding in rookies (Winn, Beck, and Harrison). We can assume they waited too long to bring Manaea back into the rotation, too, but ultimately, the Giants seem setup to have a similar problem in 2024 as they did this past season.

Here’s my projection for the innings breakdown:

STARTERS

Logan Webb - 200 IP
Kyle Harrison - 120 IP
Tristan Beck - 120 IP
Keaton Winn - 110 IP
Jordan Hicks - 100 IP
Ross Stripling - 100 IP
Alex Cobb - 90 IP
Robbie Ray - 50 IP

= 890 IP

Harrison, Winn, and Beck are all guys I’m projecting to stay very close to their minor league maxes which you might not agree will be the plan this season. But just for reference, Harrison hit 113 in 2022 and just 101 across all levels last season due to injury. Winn reached 100 exactly between Sacramento and San Francisco; Beck had the most with 111 between San Francisco (85) and Sacramento (26).

We don’t really know when Cobb or Ray will come back and so I went conservative with their projections. Even if Cobb returns in May, I doubt he avoids another IL stint at some point. We simply don’t know about Ray, or if he’ll even provide good innings. Stripling is such a wild card but it would be a really bad look for the front office if he had a second bust of a season (think about all the free agent busts they’ve had recently). Maybe the new Humm Baby coaching staff can figure out how to use him best.

On that point, let us consider their recent success with reliever turned starter Seth Lugo, who last year pitched 146.1 innings (26 starts, 3.57 ERA) and was worth 2.8 fWAR. He pitched 65 innings in 2022 strictly in a relief role. Jordan Hicks is coming off 65.2 relief innings this season as he looks to convert to a starter. So, maybe they have a plan to get more innings out of him than I’ve projected.

RELIEVERS

Camilo Doval, 70 IP
Tyler Rogers, 70 IP
Ryan Walker, 60 IP
Taylor Rogers, 60 IP
Luke Jackson, 60 IP

= 320 IP

I’ve overclocked Camilo Doval assuming that Bob Melvin and Bryan Price will want to; I’m not quite sure if Tyler Rogers retains his favored status with the new coaching staff, but for now I’ll keep him there since he’s statistically proven himself again and again.

We might see some more innings out of Taylor Rogers, too, given that he’s making $11 million, and the expectation for Luke Jackson should be a leap in innings since this will be his second season following Tommy John; though, the Giants might not burn him out like they did with John Brebbia under this same pitching plan (since there’s an option for 2025).

So, that’s 1,210 innings, or 84% of last year’s total. They lost 172.2 innings just from the departures of Jakob Junis, John Brebbia, and Scott Alexander. That means there’s a minimum of 3-4 arms to think about, averaging about 45-65 innings (if we’re just trying to get to 1400 innings or thereabout). We know we’ll need certain innings sooner because of Cobb and Ray’s unavailability at the start of the season, too.

It’s not implausible that they could re-sign Junis or even Alexander, or even sign one more of the few remaining starters out there (Ryu? Turnbull? Lorenzen? Lamet?); and then there are minor leaguers like Carson Whisenhunt and Mason Black, along with other 40 man options like Trevor McDonald, Erik Miller, Randy Rodriguez, and Kai-Wei Teng — but do we really need to see more of Sean Hjelle?

From this dumb-dumb’s POV it sure does seem like the Giants need to add at least 1-2 other pitchers into the mix, but the Giants won 107 games two seasons ago so they’re the experts on how to make a successful baseball squadron. Let’s finish this post by giving you a chance to prove your smarts by seeing if there’s an innings configuration with the presently available talent that reaches 1400.

Assume two givens: Logan Webb at 200 IP and Luke Jackson at 60 IP. I didn’t create fields for other players you think could be added to either the rotation or bullpen, but go nuts.

STARTERS
Logan Webb - 200 IP
Kyle Harrison -
Tristan Beck -
Keaton Winn -
Jordan Hicks -
Ross Stripling -
Alex Cobb -
Robbie Ray -

=

RELIEVERS
Camilo Doval -
Tyler Rogers -
Ryan Walker -
Taylor Rogers -
Luke Jackson - 60 IP

=

TOTAL = 1,400 IP

Can you scheme the Giants to 1,400 innings with the current group?

* - [Although, maybe you don’t have fears about the pitching staff. Maybe you’re confident in their internal projections because you have faith in the front office or maybe you’re more concerned about the lineup, which doesn’t seem much more promising than the 2023 line.]