During 2011, pitching was the most dependable part of the Giants, and there are many reasons to think that it will play a significant role in whatever success may come in 2012. If we could call starting pitchers reasons, then four of them--Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, and Ryan Vogelsong--had, despite those pesky win-loss ratios, outstanding seasons. Take a look at the National League top ten ERAs on the season, and they are all there: Vogelsong at number 4 (2.71), Lincecum 5 (2.74), Cain 8 (2.88) and Bumgarner at 10 with 3.21. Perhaps you're not convinced by ERA. We could look at FIP, and then Bumgarner (2.67) and Cain (2.91) both rank in the top 5. Lincecum, despite an increase from previous seasons, is not so shabby either, at 3.17.
Now, of course, the numbers aren't the whole story. Or, at least, they say different things for different pitchers. Lincecum's numbers have worried some, given that they seem to show that batters are finally figuring out how to hit against him. With Cain they show how important he is to the rotation, and with Bumgarner they are the kind of thing that, barring any future outings against the Twins, show a lot of promise.
As to Vogelsong, well, where do you start?
He not only knows how to feed rivalries in all the right ways ("I don't want to wear Dodger blue"), but he put up the kind of numbers that, following a long absence in the majors, made you wonder how exactly the so-called cognoscenti made decisions about who qualified for the comeback player of the year (or, really, the choice revealed their thought process: PLAYOFFS! PLAYOFFS! BERKMAN! Sure, Berkman had an off year in 2010, but Vogelsong hadn't even played in the majors since 2006). Of course, that's not exactly what his performance was about during the season. Judging by that I think we could expect two things: that his numbers won't be as stellar during the first half of 2012 (but if they are we'll take it), but that he won't have the same troubles late in the season as he did this year, which appear to be due to the workload (in 2010 he threw 95.1 innings of AAA ball, and this year he threw a combined 191 between AAA and the majors).
I don't exactly know why I spent so much time on the four starters we can expect to see next year, because it's the fifth starter spot that caused so much trouble this year: Jonathan Sanchez's stressful 5.86 walks per nine, Eric Surkamp's, uh, 5.74 BB/9 and ERA (look it up), and Barry Zito's whatever that was of a season.
If Sanchez can't get it together for 2012, or ends up in the bullpen (or in the event that he's non-tendered, as they say, or tendered-traded), we'll need Machiavelli to help us sort it out. He'd tell us that we would want Zito to put together a good first half so that he can be traded away to a playoff drunk team before the deadline, leaving the Giants to cobble together the remainder of the season with possibly Sanchez, a post-Pacific Coast League Surkamp, a waiver signing and/or September call up--since you only need a four man rotation for the playoffs (What? Did you think Niccolò Machiavelli would settle for anything less?). It sounds crazy, but even this year people were floating the suggestion of a Lackey-Zito trade--which is a clear sign that things could be worse (Lackey posted a 6.41 ERA over 160 innings. In Boston that gives you a 12-12 record in 28 starts; with San Francisco he'd be lucky to post a win or two)!