The four pitchers had ERAs of 2.74, 2.88, 3.21 and 2.71 respectively. Three of them surpassed the 200 innings pitched plateau and all of them had an ERA+ above 110.
That starting four is as strong as they come. Vogelsong surprised, Cain repeated his steady form, Lincecum bounced back from a down season, and Bumgarner shut down any lineup put against him.
What about the fifth starter?
Sanchez pitched like Sanchez, posting a 4.26 ERA with 102 strikeouts in 101.1 innings pitched. Zito…
Well, he pitched like the Zito we all know. He pitched in only 53 innings in 2011, with another terrible ERA of 5.87. To give an idea of how bad he was, Cain had one less home run allowed in almost four and a half times the amount of innings Zito pitched.
Surkamp was a last minute spot starter, appearing just six times toward the end of the season. He had some good performances, and he had some bad. Ultimately his 5.74 ERA proving that he is not yet ready for a starting job in the big leagues.
Now that the Giants are heading into the off season, they need to figure out who the fifth starter is going to be.
Here are some options the Giants are considering:
Option One- The No-Hitter No Brainer
This is the option we turn to every year: can Sanchez pull together a consistent season? Maybe.
He is a streaky pitcher who has some amazing stuff. He strikes out guys almost as well as Lincecum, but he falls apart every other start.
In 2010, Sanchez was a very effective pitcher, his ERA+ was 127, well above average, and he had a career-low ERA of 3.07 (lowest of all starters).
In 2009, he pitched a near perfect game that was broken up by an error by Juan Uribe. He settled for a no-hitter.
Last year he suffered injuries and made trips to the disabled list. He is arbitration eligible this year, and I assume he will be offered it. This is the safest option for the fifth starter, as he has the potential to be a very good pitcher.
But can he finally show he is worth keeping around?
Option Two- Zito…
Yeah, this is still an option. He cost the Giants $18.5 million last season, and he plans on sticking around until the end of the 2013 season.
Zito allows too many home runs, he was injured a majority of last year, and he shows no signs of getting better at pitching. If the Giants can trade him, good for them for clearing dead money off the payroll.
If the Giants can put him in a long reliever role in the bullpen for 2012, that might be acceptable. Alas, he is still an option for the Giants fifth starter.
Option Three- Young Guns
This option is less likely, but the Giants have some decent pitching talent in their farm system.
Surkamp is almost ready for the big leagues, as he pitched amazingly in the minors last year. In AA Richmond, he posted a 2.02 ERA with 165 strikeouts in just 142 innings while allowing just five home runs. He is just 24 years old and will likely start in AAA Fresno if he is not chosen for the opening day roster.
Dan Runzler has pitched for the Giants the past three seasons exclusively as a reliever. Last year he posted a 6.26 ERA in 27 innings pitched as a Giant.
Down in Fresno, he posted a 3.98 ERA last year while starting his first string of games. He doesn’t give up many home runs but he allows over five walks per nine innings in the bigs. That number is very concerning when looking at him as a starter.
Option Four- Hit the Market
This option is very unlikely and buying a free agent pitcher is not going to be a simple task. The Giants are short on cash and they already have pitchers in their system that can fill in.
But, this is still an option, no matter how foolish it may be.
Many pitchers could fit in this rotation, but I just don’t see the Giants going out to buy an arm.