Chad Gaudin, Staff Ace

Chad GaudinA sign that your season isn’t going quite as planned: Chad Gaudin is your staff ace.

Okay, that’s not entirely accurate. Gaudin has made one start for the San Francisco Giants, and incredibly, it went very well. Before Sunday, Gaudin hadn’t pitched in the big leagues as a starter since 2009. Despite pitching in the friendly confines of Petco Park for the San Diego Padres that year, Gaudin went 4-10 with a 5.23 ERA over 19 starts. He struck out 102 in 103.1 innings of work, but he also allowed 104 hits, 55 walks and 60 earned runs. In 415.2 career innings as a starter, his ERA is 4.70.

Gaudin hasn’t been an effective starter because he can’t get lefties out.

Lefties have hit .293/.390/.448 in 1,634 trips to the plate against Gaudin during his career. Gaudin can’t get lefties out because he doesn’t have an effective changeup that he can neutralize them with. He’s a fastball/slider guy who drops in the occasional, ineffective change for show.

Because Giants general manager Brian Sabean didn’t bother acquiring a reasonably effective sixth starter this offseason, Gaudin was pressed into action as a starter against the St. Louis Cardinals on Sunday. Ryan Vogelsong got injured, top prospect Michael Kickham showed he wasn’t ready for the big leagues in his lone start and Gaudin was the only card left to play for a GM who figured he’d only need five starters this year despite Tim Lincecum‘s miserable 2012 season, Barry Zito‘s miserable 2011 season and Vogelsong’s horrific track record prior to 2011.

Gaudin delivered a rare quality start for a rotation that has been running on fumes all season. Gaudin’s quality start was the just the 23rd by a Giants starter this season in 57 games, which is the second-worst quality start rate in the National League. The staff’s 4.89 ERA is third worst. Roberto Hernandez, formerly known as Fausto Carmona, has a 4.87 ERA this season for the Tampa Bay Rays. The Giants would have been better off running out five Carmona’s through the first two months of the season. The Five Carmona’s would probably be a great band, too.

Over six innings against the Cards, all Gaudin allowed was a two-run dinger on a hanging slider to the right-handed batting David Freese. He allowed four hits, two runs and no walks. He struck out five, induced five ground-outs and eight fly-outs. He pounded the strike zone with a fastball that averaged 93.65 miles per hour according to Brooks Baseball. He topped out at nearly 96 (Brooks Baseball’s readings seem higher, probably because they measure pitch speed at 55 feet). He only threw 15 offspeed pitches—13 sliders and two changeups. 55 of his 79 pitches were strikes. Lefties went just 2-for-9 against Gaudin.

It was the best start by a Giants pitcher in a long time—probably since Madison Bumgarner‘s seven strong innings against the Washington Nationals in a losing effort on May 22. After Shelby Miller and Adam Wainwright dominated Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and the Giants by a combined score of 15-1 in a doubleheader on Saturday, the Giants were in desperate need of a decent start.  Gaudin delivered by pumping well-located heaters throughout his six solid innings of work.

For a day, Chad Gaudin was the staff ace. It probably won’t ever happen again this season, but that doesn’t mean Gaudin hasn’t earned another start. His fastball velocity ticked up on Sunday, possibly from the adrenaline of starting for the first time in four years. Will he throw 91-96 in his next start? Probably not, given that he was 90-94 as a reliever. Will he have the same success against lefties again? Probably not, given his career track record. Cardinals manager Mike Matheny did Gaudin a big favor by failing to load up his lineup with lefties. If Carlos Beltran and Daniel Descalso had started in place of Matt Holliday and Pete Kozma, it might have been a different story for Gaudin. His next opponent might have a better understanding of platoon splits and basic mathematics.

Gaudin isn’t likely to continue to pitch effectively as a starter. However, for a day, he was the stopper. We’ll always have St. Louis with Gaudin, and with Barry Zito—who delivered a similarly improbable gem in St. Louis to stave off elimination in Game 5 of last year’s NLCS.

Matt Cain will not want to remember St. Louis after his disastrous start on Saturday. Cain retired the first six hitters of the game before allowing nine hits and seven runs in an atrocious third inning. There was some talk about Cain possibly tipping his pitches out of the stretch, and that’s certainly a possibility. However, look at the locations of the nine hits he allowed in the third inning:

Image courtesy of Brooks Baseball. The light blue squares represent hits.

Seven of the nine hits and one of the three outs in the inning were on belt-high mistakes right out over the plate. Sure, there was some bad luck involved. Not every location mistake automatically goes for a hit in this god-forsaken sport. Some of those balls in play would normally have found gloves to limit the damage. Two of those hits were on pitches off the plate. Allen Craig dug out a low-and-inside changeup and flared it for a single to left. Yet when you have an inning where you consistently miss the target and deliver fat pitches for a good lineup to hit, you have to expect that they’ll take advantage. Cain allowed no other baserunners in his other five innings of work, which made his day all the more perplexing in what has been a confounding two months for the Giants ace.

Finally, I’m starting to think that some of the guys on the periphery of this roster are not big leaguers. Nick Noonan (.211/.262/.228), Guillermo Quiroz (.176/.263/.353) and Ramon Ramirez (10.80 ERA) are stretched as members of a roster with championship aspirations. And, if the Giants aren’t going to pitch this year, they’ll need more offense from left field than Andres Torres (up to .276/.323/.388 after a recent hot streak) and Gregor Blanco (down to .255/.318/.320 after a recent cold streak) can be expected to provide. Two fourth outfielders can be cobbled together for a reasonable platoon in some situations. However, the Giants look like they’re going to need to win 9-8 more often than 2-1, which makes the speed-and-defense left field platoon look outdated, just like the starting staff. You can’t replace five struggling starters, but you can find one more bat for a lineup that looks like it’s going to have to carry this team.

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