As the Giants’ rotation finally starts to take shape not many questions are left except who is going to round out the 5th and final spot in the rotation? The Giants will most likely use spring training to find their 5th starter much like they did last year when Jamey Wright was named to the rotation after a strong spring. There are still free agent options left but I expect the Giants to ignore most of them because they will command too much of a commitment (I just want to say condolences to whatever team signs Tomo Ohka to a multi-year deal)
Surprisingly enough, the Giants had pretty good numbers out of their 5th spot in 2006. Hardball Times has recently published an article examining how good #4 starters actually performed in comparison with other rotation slots. In the article they average the ERA for each slot in a rotation (1-5) and found out that the average major league 5th starter’s ERA was 6.24. Only three teams in all of baseball had 5th starters post an ERA under 5 and only two teams had a 5th starter post an ERA under 5.50. The Giants were one of the two teams with a ERA under 5.50 at 5.18. Even that surprised me!
Lets take a quick look at some of the candidates for that last rotation spot.
Jonathan Sanchez – Many consider Sanchez to be the favorite to win the last rotation spot but I have some reservations. Sanchez has a lot of talent but is young and still needs some work. One cause for concern is that he walked 23 batters in 40 innings last year. Outside of a fastball and slider he doesn’t seem to have much of a secondary offering and I’d like to see him work on his control and pitches from the bullpen. I am one who subscribes to the idea of letting younger pitchers work out of the bullpen before they enter the rotation so that they can get used to major league hitting. Sanchez does have a great arm.
Russ Ortiz – No, its not 2002, Russ Ortiz has returned to the Giants on a league minimum deal with the promise that he’ll be able to compete for the rotation. While many will instantly be angry at this signing I have to admit I oddly don’t hate it. Ortiz has looked horrible over the last two years. So, you’re probably scratching your head as to why I don’t hate this deal? First, Ortiz is only signed to a one year league minimum deal costing the Giants nothing in the way of money and contract length. This is a high reward low risk deal and is exactly the type of deal the Giants should be looking at to fill the last rotation spot. Second, because he has to earn the rotation spot through competition in spring training, if he gets lit up the Giants can just cut him and not worry about it. If reports are true about Ortiz regaining some of his lost velocity he could perform better than most people think. Still, hes a long shot to make the rotation.
Sun-Woo Kim – A very, very, long shot to make the team out of spring training. In 2006 he gave up 19 runs in 13.2 IP for the Reds. Kim hasn’t pitched over a 100 innings since 2004 and has never posted an ERA under 4.50. Look for him to be stashed away in Fresno as a 7th or 8th emergency starter.
Brad Hennessey – Hennessey is a possible candidate for the 5th spot depending on how he does in the spring. Hennessey had his best year at the major league level in 2006 when he moved to the bullpen and took on a more long relief / spot starter type role. Hennessey is a guy that always seemed to struggle with consistency, looking pretty good one start and the next never getting out of the 2nd inning. If he can string together some good starts in ST he’ll have a chance at the 5th spot.
Kevin Correia – Much like Hennessey, Correia had a career year after moving to the bullpen. In 2006 he posted a ERA+ of 129 along with a 3.49 ERA over 69.7 innings. Correia also seems to struggle with consistency but has good movement on his pitches when he can locate them. He screams ‘reliever’ to me and I hope the Giants stick with him in that role.
Tim Lincecum – The one and only wonder kid. Lincecum, one of the most watched pitching prospects in all of baseball, has absolutely dominated pro ball in his short stint. Posting a K/9 rate of 15.61 in 27.2 innings of work in which he struck out 48 batters. Lincecum easily has the best stuff out of all the potential candidates for the 5th starter job but I hope the Giants plan to be carefull with him and let him work through the minors some more. In the way that the Giants have handled Tim so far its apparent that they want him to stick as a starter and I think that even though hes going to pitch in ST they’ll keep him in the minors to start 2007. Look for him to quickly progress through the minors and maybe even be in the Giants bullpen by years end.
Of all the pitchers reviewed thus far I like Hennessey and maybe Ortiz the best for the 5th rotation spot. If Hennessey can find some consistency in the spring and preform well he should have a good chance of moving into the rotation. Ortiz is entirely dependent on if he has anything left to contribute at a major league level, which I am not holding my breath for. I’d like to see Sanchez in the bullpen to further work on his craft. Same goes for Correia who I think is more valuable as a reliever than a starter. Sun-Woo Kim should start in AAA and Lincecum should be head back to the minors to continue to hopefully dominate hitters.