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2010 NL Playoff Rotations: San Francisco Giants

With their afternoon win followed by a Padres loss, the Giants have clinched at least a tie for the NL West crown. All they have to do is win one game at home this weekend to put themselves in the playoffs for the first time since 2003. Even in the unlikely event of a sweep they’ll still have a Game 163 on Monday. They’d head down to San Diego for that one, since the Padres have the season series at hand. But that scenario is still not likely. The odds are heavily in favor of San Francisco playing in the postseason.

While the Phillies have a seemingly unstoppable rotation, the Giants have a formidable staff themselves. There is only a small chance that the two will meet in the NLDS — it would take San Diego winning the West and San Fran taking the Wild Card over Atlanta. But this would be one amazing NLCS pitching match-up.

1) Tim Lincecum CHONE: 3.40 nERA, 2.60 FIP
2010: 5.2 WAR, 3.16 FIP, 3.22 xFIP, 3.47 tERA, 3.43 ERA

This hasn’t been Lincecum’s finest season, nor has he been the best pitcher on the Giants. But he has still been excellent, despite the narrative that something is wrong with him. Regardless of his standing among his rotation-mates, he lines up to start Game 1 of the NLDS.

While Linecum’s strikeout rate is down this year, 9.79 per nine against 10.42 in 2009 and 10.51 in 2008, he still leads the NL. His home run rate has almost doubled from last year, but he’s still in the Top 20. His FIP ranks eighth and his xFIP ranks fourth. In other words, a down year by his standards is still an ace-like one. A Lincecum – Tim Hudson NLDS Game 1 sounds like a thrilling one.

2) Matt Cain CHONE: 3.88 nERA, 3.77 FIP
2010: 4.4 WAR, 3.51 FIP, 4.20 xFIP, 3.31 tERA, 2.95 ERA

Tonight Cain gets the first shot at delivering the NL West title, as he’ll take the hill for the Giants. This is the second straight year Cain has produced an ERA under 3.00, an the fourth in a row in which he has outperformed both his FIP and xFIP. He has, however, been a bit closer to his tERA this year, mainly because of his lower line drive rate, 16.8 percent against 18.7 percent last year and 22.8 percent in 2008. Yet he’s still outperforming that. Some guys simply defy their component ERAs.

One noticeable change in Cain this year is that he’s lost about a mile per hour off his fastball, as suggested by both the BIS data and PitchFX. Yet heh asn’t let it get in the way of his effectiveness. The BIS data has him throwing the changeup a bit more often, and at a lower speed than in previous years. The PitchFX data differs slightly in changeup usage data, but reports the same trend in velocity. It also appears that he’s getting a bit more movement away from left-handed hitters.

Just as Lincecum matches up with any other team’s ace, Cain can stack up to any other No. 2 pitcher he’ll face.

Question Marks

I’m placing the next three pitchers as question marks, because I honestly have no idea how San Francisco will line up their staff in the postseason. Barry Zito pitches on Saturday, so he would line up for a Game 3 start. But he hasn’t pitched as well as Jonathan Sanchez and Madison Bumgarner. Will the Giants go with Zito and his playoff experience, or a lefty who has pitched better? I’ll bet on the experience, just because that’s how these things seem to go.

3) Barry Zito CHONE: 4.47 nERA, 4.39 FIP
2010: 2.2 WAR, 4.25 FIP, 4.76 xFIP, 4.31 tERA, 4.08 ERA

In April it appeared as though we were witnessing the Great Barry Zito Resurgence. In 35.1 innings he produced a 1.53 ERA and 2.66 FIP. It was clear that he wouldn’t continue pitching like that all season, but he had a chance for a quality third season in San Francisco. But then in May he had a 4.50 ERA and 4.81 FIP, which evened out his numbers a bit. Later he had an August every bit as bad as his April was good, 7.76 ERA and 6.24 FIP, which has made his season look rather pedestrian on the whole. Yet given his veteran status and playoff experience he’ll probably get the ball in Game 3 — though I hope I’m wrong.

4) Jonathan Sanchez CHONE: 4.42 nERA, 3.91 FIP
2010: 2.6 WAR, 4.01 FIP, 4.10 xFIP, 3.67 tERA, 3.15 ERA

For the first time in his career Sanchez has out-performed his FIP, and the Giants’ staff is all the better for it. He has continued his career-long trend of being a high-strikeout, high-walk pitcher who allows about an average number of home runs. The difference this year is that he’s limited line drives to 14.6 percent, which has in part caused a dip in his BABIP to .263 from a career mark of .301. A 78.7 percent strand rate has also helped his ERA.

Based on his results for the 2010 season, Sanchez seems like the pick for a Game 3 start. There’s the risk that his walks come back to haunt him, or that he sees some hits fall in that didn’t during the regular season, but that’s a risk with any pitcher. He has produced the results this season, and the Giants should give him a chance to finish his strong finish to the season (1.17 ERA, 3.41 FIP, 10.86 K/9 in September).

5) Madison Bumgarner CHONE: 4.78 nERA, 4.45 FIP
2010: 2.0 WAR, 3.66 FIP, 4.04 xFIP, 3.59 tERA, 3.00 ERA

He’s just 20 years old, but Bumgarner has been a major contributor for the Giants this season. And, as is the case with Sanchez, he’s finishing the season strong. In 32 September innings he has a 1.13 ERA and 1.96 FIP, striking out a batter per inning along the way. His BABIP is a bit high at .340, but he’s helped off-set that with a 92.5 percent strand rate. It’s been quite a month, and if the Giants think they can ride that into October they should hand him the ball in Game 4. It’s a long shot, of course, with both Zito and Sanchez on the roster. But if the Giants want to go on results, it will be Sanchez and Bumgarner taking the ball while Zito watches from the bench. The more likely scenario is that Bumgarner finds a place in the bullpen.