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Giants Get Band Back Together in Push to Replicate 2021 Magic

With a quick Thanksgiving Week strike, San Francisco re-signed Anthony DeSclafani and neared a deal to reunite with Alex Wood.

The Giants entered this offseason with a problem: They had almost no starting pitching.

Their 2021 rotation had been a bridge-year group made primarily of short-term bets. Last winter, San Francisco extended a qualifying offer to Kevin Gausman, and it worked out modest, one-year contracts with Anthony DeSclafani and Alex Wood. All three pitchers previously had alternated flashes of success with stretches of disappointment. This meant that each, in his own way, represented something of a gamble. But then something funny happened—it all worked. The Giants weren’t crossing a bridge to winning; they were suddenly all the way over the bridge, and they had hit on every one of their starting pitching bets.

They won 107 games in 2021, and a large part of that was their rotation, which was among the best in baseball with a 3.44 staff ERA. DeSclafani had the most impressive season of his career. Wood stayed healthy to put together his sharpest campaign in years. Most remarkable of all, Gausman offered a triumphant performance that finally matched the hype that had once surrounded him as a prospect, nearly a decade ago. If these had been a trio of short-term bets, San Francisco had managed to nail every single one.

Sep 19, 2021; San Francisco, California, USA; San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Anthony DeSclafani (26) throws a pitch during the third inning against the Atlanta Braves at Oracle Park.

The Giants re-signed DeSclafani on a three-year, $36-million deal.

It was wonderful! But if you build a winning rotation through successful one-year maneuvers, you only get to enjoy it for, well, one year. After all of that success, Gausman, DeSclafani and Wood each hit free agency this winter. (So, too, did veteran backend starter Johnny Cueto, after the team declined to pick up his option.) The immediate aftermath was stark: If the Giants could boast one of the best rotations in baseball on Nov. 1, they could point to homegrown arm Logan Webb, and quite literally no one else, on Nov. 10. Webb is a fantastic starter to build a rotation around. But he is not a rotation unto himself. Which meant that the Giants clearly had some work to do.

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And they didn’t take long to dive in. San Francisco kicked off Thanksgiving week by announcing that it would keep DeSclafani on a three-year, $36-million deal. It soon reportedly closed in on a new contract for Wood, too, at two years and more than $20 million. With the pitching market off to a hot start, this relatively quick action put the Giants in a much, much better spot than they might have otherwise been for an uncertain December. (A to-do list that reads “find two-ish more starters” is far less daunting than one that says “build entire rotation.”) The team had plenty of options here: The Giants have cash to spend, with money coming off the books this winter, and their new reputation for turning around pitching careers could make them an especially attractive destination. But they started by taking the most direct path available. San Francisco is bringing (at least part of) the band back together, and this time, the plan is to keep them in the rotation for longer than a year.

There’s no guarantee that DeSclafani and Wood will be able to match in 2022 what they did in 2021. (Which, to be fair, is a sentiment that typically applies to just about everyone on a 107-win team.) But the good reputation of this front office and coaching staff is well-earned; they truly did show a consistent ability last year to tap into the best of a pitcher’s ability. For DeSclafani and Wood to have an opportunity to keep working with them should only be a good thing.

For instance, DeSclafani tweaked his arsenal with the Giants: He threw his slider and changeup more than he ever had and his fastball less. The switch helped him to be his most effective in years. DeSclafani’s ground-ball rate was the highest that it had been since the start of his career, and he did a better job of managing his platoon splits than ever before, minimizing the damage that lefties did against him. (Left-handed hitters have historically posted an .809 OPS against DeSclafani, but in 2021, that number dropped to .695.) Wood, for his part, was able to thrive with the Giants by limiting hard contact—which included generating more grounders with his changeup than he had ever before, a result that came about, in part, because he tweaked his grip on the pitch for the first time.

Sep 24, 2021; Denver, Colorado, USA; San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Alex Wood (57) delivers a pitch in the first inning against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field.

Wood thrived with the Giants in 2021 by limiting hard contact.

There are other factors to consider looking ahead here, such as health, which is never a guarantee for pitchers with injury histories like these two. (Both DeSclafani and Wood have thrown more than 150 innings just twice in the last six years.) But even once you account for potential backsliding and health risks and other caveats, it stands that San Francisco facilitated meaningful adjustments that spelled success for both DeSclafani and Wood in 2021, and it is much, much better for the team to have the two of them around than not in '22. The most straightforward way for the Giants to repeat their success from last year is to bring back as much of the roster as possible. Locking in DeSclafani and Wood helps to accomplish just that.

As for filling out the rest of the rotation? The Giants can certainly try working their magic with other under-the-radar starters. But the team has enough resources available that it needn’t limit itself to that. Bringing back Gausman is one possibility. (The Giants are reportedly still in the chase for him—though the competition is steep.) Going after a marquee starter, like Max Scherzer, is another option. It’s likely that San Francisco goes with some combination of the above—one big name paired with one or two smaller ones or reclamation projects. For now, however, the Giants made some crucial moves toward solving their biggest problem. They still need to beef up their rotation. But by bringing back DeSclafani and Wood alongside Webb, they’ve ensured that they have a rotation, which puts them one step closer to replicating last year’s success.

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