In One Day, Giants Bring Back Two Key Starting Pitchers

Even coming off of a 107-win season and the NL West title, the Giants found themselves in a rather difficult position entering this offseason. A starting rotation worth a combined 16.5 WAR last season — good for fifth highest in the majors — found itself at risk of losing four mainstays who combined for 610.2 of the 831.1 innings that it logged last season: Kevin Gausman (192 IP), Anthony DeSclafani (167.2), Alex Wood (138.2), and Johnny Cueto (114.2). On Monday, the team brought two of those hurlers back into the fold, striking a three-year, $36 million agreement with DeScalafani and a two-year contract worth more than $10 million annually with Wood. Within one hour, the Giants brought back 40% of their 2021 starting rotation and solidified a potential weak point.

As with most of their teammates, DeSclafani and Wood had near-career years in black and orange last season, and they cashed in with nice new contracts before the calendar hit December. The former came in at No. 36 on our top 50 free agents list, with Ben Clemens projecting a two-year, $20 million contract and the median FanGraphs reader estimating two years and $19.5 million. Clearly, the Giants had to go an extra year to get that done. Wood, meanwhile, was unranked on our list, though Ben noted that he had considered slotting him at No. 50, and that the crowdsourced projection had him earning a three-year, $33 million deal.

Now heading into his age-32 season, DeScalafani posted a 3.17 ERA, 3.62 FIP, and 3.0 WAR across 167.2 innings. He’s not a flashy pitcher by any means: his 22.5% strikeout rate was only a tick above his career average (21.0%) coming into last season, and his 6.2% walk rate was only a tick below (6.7%). But the Giants made some important tweaks to his repertoire that helped him avoid the long ball, including a decrease in four-seam fastball usage — 27.1%, a career-low. His slider became both his “primary” (35.7% usage, the most of any pitch) and best pitch, with a run value of 11; batters posted a .290 wOBA when putting it in play and whiffed on more than 32% of swings.

DeSclafani isn’t necessarily in the mold of the frontline starter, but that’s not the role he’ll be filling, and the Giants already have that in 2021 breakout Logan Webb. What he should provide is exactly what he did last year: quality innings. Pitching in front of a helpful Giants’ defense that was worth six outs above-average when he was on the hill helped; he certainly benefitted from a .265 BABIP. But even if he regresses to what the different ERA estimators thought of his 2021 performance (3.62 FIP, 3.95 xFIP, 3.95 xERA, 4.11 SIERA), he’s still a valuable piece to have on the starting staff.

DeSclafani qualified for the ERA title with his workload, something that has only become rarer in recent seasons. Wood, on the other hand, provided higher-quality innings, just fewer of them: 138.2 frames, along with a 3.83 ERA, 3.48 FIP, and 2.5 WAR. He set a career high in strikeout rate at 26%, and his 6.7% walk rate narrowly missed besting his career mark of 6.5. He also posted a 51% ground-ball rate, making him one of just four pitchers (out of 129) to post a strikeout rate of at least 25% and a ground-ball rate of at least 50%. The others are the aforementioned Webb, Ranger Suárez, and Lance McCullers Jr.

Wood’s sinker was by far his best offering last season, but further featuring his slider — which he only added in his 12.2-inning 2020 — helped give hitters a different look than in years past. For the first time in five years, he truly had a high-whiff pitch, with nearly 40% of swings against his slider resulting in misses, his highest rate on any offering with at least 100 pitches thrown since his 2016 curveball (41%). Pair that with his already-excellent sinker (12 runs above average, per Statcast), and that is how he ended up on that short list above. The big question for 2022 and beyond for the soon-to-be 31-year-old will be durability, as it has been throughout his career.

Even with DeSclafani and Wood back, there are still holes to fill. Gausman led the staff with 4.8 WAR, will earn a considerably larger contract than either of these two pitchers, and has already drawn interest from, among others, the Angels, Mariners, and Blue Jays. That’s not to say he can’t return to San Francisco, which currently has a projected $114 million in 2022 payroll thus far. (That’s without Wood, whose exact contract has yet to be reported.) For now, Webb, DeSclafani, and Wood will be the top three in the rotation, with Sammy Long, Tyler Beede, and Joe Palumbo as possibilities to see action as well. Given that lack of depth, it would be surprising to see the Giants go the rest of the offseason without signing at least one, if not two, starting pitchers. More arms will be needed, but heading into Thanksgiving, at least the team has taken care of two important ones.

Devan Fink is a Contributor at FanGraphs. You can follow him on Twitter @DevanFink.

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CC AFCmember
1 year ago

I liked both of these moves a lot for the Giants. Very reasonable prices for a couple of quality pitchers. Definitely accounts for the possibility (probability?) that neither soaks up a huge number of innings.

Actually a little surprised Desclafani, in particular, couldn’t get closer to $50m in guarantees. Though maybe he did and just decided to stay in San Francisco.

1 year ago
Reply to  CC AFC

These are about where I would have expected, and a bit higher than I would have felt comfortable with. Then again, if we assume everyone takes the highest bid, then I’d guess that there are other teams that feel similarly to me (as in, there are couple of teams who would have valued these guys slightly less).

Between this, Verlander, Matz, and Syndergaard a few things seem pretty clear to me:
1) The Tigers got one heck of a deal on E-Rod
2) There are absolutely no problems for pitchers in free agency right now. None. Zero.
3) Related to #2: Considering how much the owners have been crying poverty lately it sure doesn’t look like it.

kick me in the GO NATSmember
1 year ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

depends on the franchise