With 30 games remaining, Chris Stratton has become a focal point of the Giants organization

Piece by piece, the Giants are making the most of a lost season – evaluating which players that are currently on their roster, could help right the ship in 2018 and beyond.

To date, Sam Dyson, Kyle Crick, and Kelby Tomlinson appear to be locks for the 2018 Giants, while Austin Slater, Jarrett Parker, Miguel Gomez, and Pablo Sandoval have all played their way into consideration. Considering how well Dyson and Crick (in particular) have been, they alone can help solidify an area of weakness for minimal financial cost (a critical factor given their immense payroll) in 2018.

As terrific as Dyson has been, I believe the biggest storyline for the Giants’ 30 remaining games centers on the development of right-handed pitcher Chris Stratton.

Despite being a 1st round pick back in 2012, Stratton was more-or-less a forgotten man coming into 2017. While he had pitched well early in his minor league career, Stratton was nothing more than average in his 3+ season in AAA Sacramento, going 20-16 over that time with a 4.19 ERA. This year, at age 26, Stratton was experiencing his worst statistical season of his career at AAA, going 4-5 with a 5.11 ERA, allowing 94 hits in 79 innings, leading fans (and the front office) to wonder if Stratton’s best days were already behind him.

Despite his struggles, Stratton put together back-to-back quality starts in Sacramento, and earned his 3rd MLB promotion of the season when Johnny Cueto went to the DL with blister issues. Coming off a spot start in Detroit on July 6th, Stratton sported an ERA of 9.00. Since then, Stratton has allowed a total of 6 runs over his last 27.2 innings of work (1.95 ERA) and lowered his seasons ERA to 3.82. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Stratton’s dominance is that he has done it against some of baseball’s most prolific offensive teams. In his last 4 starts, facing the Diamondbacks twice, the Nationals, and the Brewers, Stratton is 2-1 with a 1.52 ERA and has struck out 25 in 23.2 innings of work.

Stratton’s emergence could not have come at a better time for a Giants team who are suddenly faced with more questions than answers in a starting pitching staff that is supposed to be the centerpiece of the franchise. Aside from Madison Bumgarner, the outlook of the Giants rotation is hazy at best. Johnny Cueto, for one, has spent 45 days on the disabled list, and hasn’t pitched well when healthy. It appears more than likely that he’ll opt-in to his deal with the club, meaning the Giants are on the hook for the remaining 4 years and $84 million. Jeff Samardzija, while proving to be an effective innings eater, has only 8 wins in 26 starts, and has allowed the 5th most hits and runs of any starter in all of baseball. Ty Blach, while shown at times to be effective, has the 6th highest batting average against of all starters in baseball, and his 67 strikeouts are the 2nd fewest in all of baseball amongst pitchers with at least 20 starts. Matt Moore, who has been brilliant at times in a Giants uniform, has the worst ERA and WHIP (walks+hits per innings pitched) of any starter in the National league.

Having this type of under-performance across the board is one thing, but when combined with the fact that the Giants have the 2nd highest payroll for pitching in Major League Baseball heading into 2018, the concerns become that much greater. With these financial commitments already in place, combined with a buy-out of Matt Cain and an opt-in from Johnny Cueto, the Giants also need to prepare to offer an overdue mega-extension to ace Madison Bumgarner. Realistically, this means that there will be no marquee free-agent pitcher walking into AT&T Park in 2018.

With as little starting-pitching depth as the Giants have on the Big League roster, the minor league system is even more depleted. #1 overall prospect Tyler Beede has been shut down for the season due to injury, while sporting a 4.79 ERA for the season over 19 starts. Joan Gregorio, the Giants’ 2nd best pitching prospect, was suspended on July 1 for testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs. Left-hander Andrew Suarez has made the strongest case for himself heading into 2018, but even he has only made 54 career minor league starts, suggesting he may be a year away from the Big Leagues.

All of the above factors into why Stratton’s emergence could be so significant for the Giants in both the short and long term. If he continues to pitch well, Stratton provides insurance for an organization that has no starting pitching depth, and perhaps more importantly (given their financial state), he’s owed the Major-League minimum until 2020.

Tomorrow, I’ll go into exactly what has helped Stratton turn his career around and based on video, what realistic expectations for the rest of 2017 and beyond shoudl be.

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