Player Profiles 2020: San Francisco Giants Starting Pitchers

Michael Ajeto analyzes the San Francisco Giants rotation for 2020 with in-depth player profiles.

Throughout the winter months of the offseason, the Pitcher List staff will be creating profiles for every fantasy-relevant player for 2020. Players will be broken up by team and role through starting pitchers, bullpen, lineup, and prospects. You can access every article as it comes out in our Player Profiles 2020 hub here.

 

Giants At A Glance

The Giants had a starting pitching rotation that already wasn’t especially great, and then they lost Madison Bumgarner, who’s been their de facto ace for much of the 2010s. To compensate for losing Bumgarner, the Giants signed Kevin Gausman and Drew Smyly. Neither are the sexiest of signings, but both are plenty interesting. Paired with perpetually underrated Jeff Samardzija, an aging Johnny Cueto, and Tyler Beede, this may be one of the most likely starting pitching groups to surprise people in 2020.

 

Johnny CuetoLocked Starter

Nickname: El Jucho

 

2019 In Review

Cueto has spent the past two seasons injured for the most part, and when he did pitch, he bore no resemblance to the pitcher we saw from 2010 to 2016. He’s just simply not the same anymore, but that’s not to say that he still can’t be solid.

 

Fastball (33% usage)

Cueto’s ability to lean on his fastball is what has made him so reliable for so long. For the past three years, his ability to induce whiffs has declined, and so has his fastball’s wOBA. 2017 marked the first time since 2010 that Cueto’s fastball wOBA has risen above .300, and it’s remained above .300 since then. Aside from Michael Fulmer, Cueto has the lowest fastball wOBAcon since 2010 in terms of starters. That’s fueled by a .258 BABIP, which is absolutely insane. The good news is that he has still induced weak contact with it in the past two years. The bad news is that the whiffs are probably going away for good.

 

Slider (25% usage)

Although this is his most utilized secondary pitch, it’s arguably his worst. It’s gotten barreled up quite a bit lately, and it’s ceased to be a swing and miss pitch, with an 8.4 SwStr% from 2018 to 2019. With a 21.3 O-Swing% and 42.5 Zone% in the same time frame, this pitch looks dead in the water, as he’ll merely see more balls if he throws it out of the zone more.

 

Sinker (19% usage)

Like his fastball, his sinker induces really weak contact, but it gets even fewer whiffs. With a low barrel rate and high ground ball rate, it’s hard to complain about this pitch. There’s not much to say about it otherwise.

 

Changeup (19% usage)

This has always been Cueto’s best secondary pitch. He’s always been able to get hitters to chase, with a career 44.8 O-Swing%, although that’s decreased to 37.2% from 2018 to 2019. Paired with a 49.4 Zone%, 17.0 SwStr%, and .343 xwOBAcon since 2018, this is a pitch that Cueto should move towards.

 

Curveball (5% usage)

He throws it just enough to mention. Hitters don’t chase, they don’t swing and miss, and the pitch has a career 129 wRC+ despite being seldom thrown. It’s not a good pitch.

 

2020 Outlook

For a pitcher who has managed just 69.0 innings in the past two years (and only 147.1 in 2017), Steamer is being awfully gracious, projecting 182.0 innings in 2020. I’ll certainly take the under there. Chalk me in for a 20 K%, 8 BB%, and 1.40 WHIP, unless he makes some changes to his repertoire (i.e., fewer sliders, more changeups).

 

Realistic worst-case projection: 4.60 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, 19% K rate in 140 IP

Realistic best-case projection: 3.90 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 23% K rate in 200 IP

 

Nick’s reluctant Johnny Cueto 2020 projection:

4.30 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 21% K rate in 170 IP

 

Jeff SamardzijaLocked Starter

Nickname: Loose Lips

 

2019 In Review

Samardzija had himself a nice 2019, posting a 3.52 ERA and 1.11 WHIP. Despite his strong year, his 84 ERA- doesn’t match his 110 FIP- or 113 xFIP-, nor does his .289 wOBA match his .326 xwOBA. Regression incoming!

 

Fastball (28% usage)

Samardzija’s fastball returned a solid 10.6 pVAL with an 8.1 SwStr%. Not bad! What is bad is that a lot of his pVAL was fueled by unsustainable weak contact. This includes a .190 BABIP, despite an 11.2% barrel rate. None of his peripheral metrics suggest that Samardzija’s fastball actually changed, so it would be silly to think that we won’t see this pitch regress. We can maybe expect the pitch to overperform somewhat though, because of his park.

 

Cutter (25% usage)

Samardzija’s cutter was incredible in 2019, posting a 13.2 pVAL. However, its story isn’t dissimilar from his fastball’s: it’s all from good batted ball luck. His cutter returned a .223 BABIP with a .288 wOBAcon and .321 xwOBAcon. This pitch is going to regress in 2020, but perhaps not as much as you’d think. It’s a solid pitch that he should continue to throw.

 

Sinker (19% usage)

Samardzija avoided getting his sinker lit up, but it wasn’t especially fortunate. For this reason, we can probably expect more of the same in 2020, which is a .344 wOBA. This is still consistently not a good pitch, but it’s not a disaster.

 

Slider (18% usage)

With a career 51.8 pVAL, this is the pitch that has made Samardzija who he is. He put up an 8.2 pVAL with his slider in 2019, along with a 32.0 O-Swing%, 52.3 Zone%, and 11.8 SwStr%. It’s a pretty interesting pitch, as it gets no horizontal movement (if anything it gets arm-side movement) with cutter-esque drop. It’s his best pitch, but his next one gives it a run for its money.

 

Splitter (8% usage)

Despite its -3.3 pVAL, Samardzija’s splitter had a 33.0 O-Swing%, 29.4 Zone%, and 16.7 SwStr%. With just 16 batted ball events on his splitter, Samardzija was simply misfortunate: it had a .438 BABIP, along with a .444 wOBAcon and .300 xwOBAcon. I’d say he should throw it more often, but given the nature of splitters—they’re notorious for losing the feel for them— he probably throws it about as often as he can.

 

2020 Outlook

I would not count on Samardzija to repeat his 2019 at all. No matter what, Samardzija’s appeal is praying for a solid ERA and WHIP. He did that in 2019, but look no further than 2018 to see the opposite (albeit in an extremely small sample of 10 starts). I think we’re looking at a 4.30 ERA, 18 K%, 6 BB%, and 1.25 WHIP.

 

Realistic worst case projection: 4.60 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 18% K rate in 170 IP

Realistic best-case projection: 3.60 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 20% K rate in 200 IP

 

Nick’s reluctant Jeff Samardzija 2020 projection:

4.10 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 20% K rate in 180 IP

 

Kevin GausmanLocked Starter

Nickname: Con-Ed

 

2019 In Review

After using an underwhelming slider sparsely for the duration of his career, Gausman decided to ditch it in 2019 and go with a 60/40 split with his fastball and splitter. The results were mixed, but he posted a career-high 18.2 K-BB%, and  I think this as excited as we’ve been about Gausman since he was a prospect.

 

Fastball (56% usage)

His total spin rate isn’t great, but his active spin rate is. That’s why Gausman’s fastball plays so well up in the zone, even with his diminishing fastball velocity. He continues to throw his fastball low in the zone, especially to his arm-side, against my best wishes, but it has a ton of potential as a really good fastball.

Even despite not optimizing where he throws his fastball, he posted a career-high 10.0 SwStr% with it. His .471 wOBAcon was significantly elevated from his career .401 wOBAcon, so if he can maintain the whiffs from 2019 while posting a more typical wOBAcon, we should see his fastball be a weapon in 2020 — especially if he elevates it (which he won’t). Of course, this is all confounded by Gausman’s 14 appearances in the bullpen, so unless we see his pre-2017 fastball velocity come back, his SwStr% will likely revert back to where it was.

 

Splitter (40% usage)

Here’s a tweet:

 

Gausman’s splitter is incredible. Since 2013, he has only had one year in which he’s posted a wOBA above .300 on his splitter, and 2019 was no different. Although its 3.4 pVAL isn’t blowing anyone away, it’s a pitch that induces favorable contact when it’s not missing bats. Its .350 BABIP says that he was unlucky, too, given his career .291 BABIP on splitters. This is the only thing saving Gausman from being quite bad.

 

Slider (4% usage)

Gausman threw his slider 30 times in 2019. He allowed a homer on it once. Not. Good.

 

2020 Outlook

Gausman is moving in the right direction. He’s throwing more splitters than ever, faded his slider, and he’s moving to a more favorable home field in Oracle Park. As Eno Sarris has noted, this is an awful lot like a Drew Pomeranz deal. He may end the year as a closer. Given this, it’s hard to peg his numbers, but we’ll go with a 4.30 ERA, 21 K%, 7 BB%, and 1.35 WHIP.

 

Realistic worst-case projection: 4.80 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 20% K rate in 110 IP

Realistic best-case projection: 3.90 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 25% K rate in 180 IP

 

Nick’s reluctant Kevin Gausman 2020 projection:

4.20 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 21% K rate in 170 IP

 

Tyler BeedeLocked Starter

Nickname: The Train

 

2019 In Review

I wrote about Tyler Beede a few weeks ago, and though he was somewhat middling throughout the year, he flashed a lot of promise in September. A few changes he made include pitching with more intent, increased velocity, and pitching with a more north-south approach.

 

Fastball (56% usage)

Beede doesn’t have a good fastball, so there’s no reason he should be throwing it as often as he does. It’s not bad, but with a 6.4 SwStr% and -0.4 pVAL, I think he would be much better served throwing his secondaries more. The catch? He throws his other pitches in the zone 32.5%, 27.8%, and 38.0% of the time, while his Zone% is 57.3% on his fastball. So he doesn’t throw fastball a lot without any reason, but he still doesn’t need to throw it this often.

 

Changeup (19% usage)

With a 39.2 O-Swing%, 32.5 Zone%, and 18.3 SwStr%, Beede’s changeup led the charge for his secondary pitches. He was inordinately unlucky with it, as he posted a .444 wOBAcon and .337 xwOBAcon with it, as well as a .365 BABIP. This will probably come back to earth and be a really solid pitch in 2020, and it’s perhaps his best pitch at getting hitters to chase (and simply his best pitch in general).

 

Curveball (14% usage)

Beede’s curveball is sick. It gets a lot of late movement, and, as we saw towards the end of September, it would likely benefit a lot if he were to elevate his fastball. He doesn’t throw it in the zone much (27.8 Zone%), but it had a 16.3 SwStr% nonetheless and a respectable 30.5 O-Swing%. I think with a full year of the changes he made towards the end of the year, we would see this pitch match his changeup’s numbers. This pitch misses a lot of bats, but hitters lay off a lot too.

 

Slider (12% usage)

In July, Beede started mixing in his slider. What did that do for him?

Before July 2nd: 6.0 K-BB%

After July 2nd: 16.4 K-BB%

Correlation isn’t causation, but Beede’s slider gave hitters another look, and another pitch that he can throw in the zone, with a 38.0 Zone% — he managed a 35.8 O-Swing% and 17.6 SwStr% too. His changeup is his best pitch, but his slider might prove to be the most important.

 

2020 Outlook

If you didn’t notice, Beede has three pitches with a SwStr% above 15%. He’s just one of five pitchers that can say that, and so, if he sustains his changes and leans on his secondaries more often, we could see Beede improve quite a bit in 2020. I’ll be aggressive and say we’ll see a 4.00 ERA, 24 K%, 7 BB%, and 1.25 WHIP, but that’s probably on the more favorable end.

 

Realistic worst-case projection: 5.00+ ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 22% K rate in 80 IP

Realistic best-case projection: 3.70 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 26% K rate in 170 IP

 

Nick’s reluctant Tyler Beede 2020 projection:

4.20 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 23% K rate in 150 IP

 

Drew SmylyLocked Starter

Nickname: :)

2019 In Review

After missing all of 2017 and 2018 to injury, Smyly returned in 2019 and, to put it lightly, wasn’t great. It’s long been an issue, but Smyly had a severe home run problem in 2019, as he posted a 2.53 ERA. Despite the bumps in the road, it was nice to see Smyly get 114 innings of work in and stay healthy.

 

Fastball (48% usage)

Back before Smyly got hurt, Jeff Sullivan wrote about his World Baseball Classic outing. In it, Sullivan was excited about Smyly’s fastball velocity, which was sitting higher than ever. Perhaps it’s time to get excited again, as Smyly’s average fastball velocity reached a career-high. Smyly’s fastball velocity and spin are both well below-average, but he has a high active spin rate and over-the-top delivery that help it play well at the top of the zone.

In 2016, Smyly put up a 15.8 pVAL with a 9.0 SwStr% with his fastball. In 2019, those numbers dropped to a -8.7 pVAL and 7.9 SwStr%. His O-Swing% also dropped from a career 24.6% to 18.6%.

If Smyly is going to return to form, everything is going to hinge on his heater.

Curveball (29% usage)

Although he had -4.3 pVAL on it, his curveball was good for a 35.7 O-Swing%. 34.2 Zone%, and 15.8 SwStr%. Not quite a Money Pitch, but it’s easily his best secondary offering. He was quite misfortunate on the year, as his curveball had a BABIP of .389, and his .407 wOBAcon exceeded his .360 xwOBAcon. This doesn’t seem sustainable, considering those numbers are all inflated, and the average exit velocity on his curveball this year was 83.4 mph with a 3.3 Barrel%.

 

Cutter (19% usage)

What’s interesting about Smyly’s cutter is that— rather than typical glove-side movement—it gets arm-side movement. Other than this, it’s not all that different from a typical cutter.

That aside, his cutter is horrific. There’s no question about it. His cutter has been as bad as his fastball has been good. That is, his cutter has accumulated a -26.0 pVAL, while his fastball has accumulated a 27.4 pVAL.

It’s misleading, because his career 37.0 O-Swing%, 37.6 Zone%, and 12.1 SwStr% are rock solid. However, it also has an average 90.8 mph exit velocity, .337 BABIP, 11.3 Barrel%, and .412 wOBAcon over his career. It simply gets barreled up, despite getting a fair amount of whiffs.

 

Changeup (5% usage)

Smyly’s changeup has a good velocity differential relative to his fastball, but he has one of the most unique changeups in baseball because of how little spin and horizontal movement it gets.

With a -15.0 pVAL, it’s his second-worst pitch, but by his -3.4 pVAL/C, it’s easily his worst pitch. It rarely draws swings outside of the zone (27.4 O-Swing%) and doesn’t induce many swinging strikes either (10.7 SwStr%). There’s a reason this is seldom thrown.

 

2020 Outlook

I really love this fit for Smyly. In his last three years of pitching (356.0 innings), Smyly has a 15.7 K-BB%, but also a 1.90 HR/9. With a year and an offseason to shake off the rust (paired with returned fastball velocity), Smyly has a very real chance of putting up something like a 4.20 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, and 22 K%. The error bars are pretty large to either side—especially since it’s not a foregone conclusion that the command and home run issues will subside. Hope for the best and plan for the worst.

 

 

Realistic worst-case projection: 5.00+ ERA, 1.50+ WHIP, 22% K rate in 50 IP

Realistic best-case projection: 4.20 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 23% K rate in 180 IP

 

Nick’s reluctant Drew Smyly 2020 projection:

4.50 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 22% K rate in 130 IP

 

Logan WebbFringe Starter

Nickname: Spiderine

2020 Outlook

Webb’s fastball could really hold him back, but he’s got two very solid secondary pitches to play with, so long as he keeps his changeup out of the zone. Especially given the uncertainty around their starting rotation, Webb could get plenty of starts this year. Steamer has him putting up numbers vaguely similar to Cueto’s (e.g., ERA, FIP, K/9, and WHIP).

 

Tyler AndersonFringe Starter

Nickname: Not Neo

 

2020 Outlook

We’ll see some starts from Anderson this year. He’s got a good fastball and decent cutter, and a plus changeup. It’ll be interesting to see how his stuff plays outside of Colorado. From 2016 to 2018, he had league-average or better xwOBA. Because of the active spin (and thus rise) of his fastball, he could see huge gains as a starter if he elevates it. With a swing and miss fastball and plus changeup, he has quite a bit of upside.

 

Nickname explanations:

Johnny CuetoEl Jucho. His nickname during Players Weekend.

Jeff SamardzijaLoose Lips. Because he sinks ships + his real nickname is Shark –> best Shark = Jaws –> ineffective “jaws” would have loose lips. Yep.

Kevin GausmanCon-Ed. Because that’s the man checking your gas.

Tyler BeedeThe Train. The Bee and Dee trains are a thing in NYC.

Drew Smyly:). That’s a smiley face emoji.

Logan WebbSpiderine. Logan = Wolverine. Webb = Spider-Man. I know. I know.

Tyler AndersonNot Neo. He’s not good enough to be called Mr. Anderson.

 

Featured Image by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)

Michael Ajeto

Michael co-founded Sounding Off Blog, where he wrote about the Mariners. Now he writes Going Deep articles here. You can follow Michael on Twitter @mikeyajetoPL, or you can not.

  • Avatar Ken says:

    You’re basing Cuetos last 2 yrs off pre surgery when he was injured, and post surgery, where he was just making sure he could pitch again. He did very good his last couple of starts. Would expect him to be better now.

    • Avatar Michael Ajeto says:

      I personally am not going to be banking on a 34 y/o coming off of two incomplete seasons and hasn’t been good since 2016. His velo has dropped off a cliff since 2015.

  • Avatar theKraken says:

    Shark is Shark’s nickname – I don’t even have to tell you who I am referring to. It is one of the best in baseball in that people actually use it. I do hate forced nicknames (like the players weekend) so don’t worry about me!

    These read like longer auto-generated Brook Baseball summaries.

  • Avatar rainmaker says:

    I dunno, a 2.53 ERA by Smyly sounds like he had a pretty good year!

  • Avatar theKraken says:

    Really liked this piece. Super informative and interesting! Loved the nicknames too!

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