Managers all over baseball would love to have a top four starting rotation like the Giants have. And who would have guessed that Matt Cain would be the fourth best of the bunch? Barry Zito has been great so far and Lincecum has been...well Lincecum. But the biggest pleasant surprise so far for the Giants has been Jonathan Sanchez. He lost a heart breaker to the Padres last night but still pitched a heck of a game. At this point in the season, Sanchez has almost been as good as the ace.
Look at the ERA+ and WHIP of the top four:
Lincecum: 521, 0.800
Zito: 252, 0.879
Sanchez: 252, 0.983
Cain: 122, 1.125
Wow! If they Giants could start getting some good starts from Wellemeyer, then this rotation could be one for the ages. But the most pleasant surprise has been Sanchez. We all know he had that no-hitter and thus the talent to be this good. But he was erratic. He'd have great outings and then he would have stinkers. All of his outings this year have been very good and that consistency seems to indicate that he has come into his own as one of the elite pitchers in the National League.
Sanchez is averaging 12.6 strikeouts per nine innings and his 27 K's tops even Lincecum. The only difference between the two is their walk rates. Lincecum has only walked three guys in 20 innings whereas Sanchez has walked eight in 19.1. If Sanchez could knock down that 3.7 walks per nine inning rate, he would really be a monster.
But that walk rate is significantly better than last year's and his career rate. Last year, Sanchez walked 4.8 batters per nine innings and his career total is 4.6. So that's a vast improvement. That improvement has led to his best K/BB ratio of his career at 3.32. And he hasn't given up a homer in his three starts which is great. Last year Sanchez gave up 19 dingers and if you walk a couple and then give up a homer, you are down three runs before you knew what happened. Walking less means less stress and less mistakes.
His high walk rates meant that Sanchez has pretty much been a five inning pitcher. He averaged 5.09 innings per start last year. His average this year is well over six innings per start. That makes a huge difference in his results and is just one more step to being a really top notch starter.
It doesn't really matter that the Giants can't hit very much. The pitching staff makes the Giants relevant. The great turnaround by Zito and the vast improvement of Sanchez means the Giants can make a run at the National League West, where the teams seems to be wallowing a bit thus far. If you were to ever get this rotation in a playoff situation, they could be very dangerous.
It will be fun to watch if Sanchez can continue to build on what has been a great start to his season. He always had the talent. And now he is starting to get out of the way of it.