Once the hard-throwing, fiery ace of San Francisco’s National League West rival San Diego Padres, it has been a long time since Jake Peavy resembled the 2007 National League Cy-Young Award winner. While he has put together several successful seasons since winning the award, his career has taken a detour from the path that may have led him to a special destination, Cooperstown.
Peavy has managed to stay relevant in baseball circles, becoming an important piece in two deadline deals that led to Boston and San Francisco winning World Series titles in 2013 and 2014, respectively.
While Peavy pitched well for the Giants during their World Series run, what can be expected of the soon to be 34-year-old right-hand pitcher during the 2015 season? Will he be the pitcher that went 36-29 with a 4.04 ERA during his five seasons with the White Sox? Will he be the pitcher that struggled at the beginning of 2014 with Boston, compiling a 1-9 record with a 4.72 ERA? Or, will he be the guy that righted the ship after being traded to the Giants, garnering a 6-4 record with a 2.17 ERA after being acquired on July 26, 2014?
One thing is for sure, he won’t be the strikeout artist he was during his time in San Diego, compiling 9 strikeouts-per-nine-innings.
When it was announced that San Francisco was making a deal at the trade deadline last year, not many expected the Giants to be acquiring Peavy. Considering the dismal year he was having, many questioned what San Francisco General Manager Brian Sabean had in mind. But Peavy settled in after three shaky starts to begin his tenure with the Giants. He even put together a stretch of five consecutive quality starts. Even after his quality start streak was snapped with a 5.2 innings, eight strikeout and one run performance against Arizona on Sept. 16, 2014; Peavy threw quality starts in two of his next three outings to close out the season.
Peavy’s performance at the end of last season suggests that he may be a quality piece to a San Francisco rotation that, aside from Madison Bumgarner (there are even questions concerning the amount of innings he threw last season), has questions all around it. The Giants have to be concerned with if Matt Cain can be effective after having bone chips removed from his throwing arm, if Ryan Vogelsong can shake off the wildness that plagued him last season, and if Tim Lincecum can be a reliable starter in the majors again.
It appears the Giants’ front office believes Peavy can be an important piece in the team’s goal of another World Series title, signing the pitcher to a two-year, $24 million. Peavy will receive $7 million dollars for the 2015 season, $13 million for 2016. The deal included a $4 million signing-bonus and a full no-trade clause.
It is still way too early to determine if San Francisco’s decision to sign Peavy was wise, but some could be concerned with his first outing of the spring. Peavy struggled in his first spring start, much the same way Bumgarner did. The right-hander allowed four hits and two runs against the Oakland Athletics. In fact, four of the first five hitters Peavy faced this spring recorded hits off him, all singles. Despite this, he was not concerned about the outing.
“It’s a typical first outing,” he said. “I’ll try to build off of this.”
Giants’ Manager Bruce Bochy is well aware of what kind of player Peavy can be for San Francisco, having coached him in San Diego previously.
“He’s an intense player, all out,” said Bochy of Peavy.
It appears the plan for Peavy is to slot him the third spot in the rotation behind Bumgarner and Cain.
If Peavy is to be successful during the 2015 season, the Giants will need him to limit his pitch counts and find ways to get hitters out without his once overpowering repertoire.
When he first arrived on the scene for the Padres in 2002, Peavy was a hard-throwing right-hander that used a mid-90s fastball and a vicious slider to record strikeouts. During his Cy-Young season in 2007, Peavy recorded 240 strikeouts in 223.1 innings, finishing with a 2.54 ERA and 19-6 record. His Cy-Young season completed three straight years in which he totaled more than 200 strikeouts, a mark he has only come close to one other time since. He had 194 strikeouts in 219 innings with the White Sox in 2012.
One reason that Peavy has not been as dominate since his Cy-Young season is the slow decline in his average velocity. According to www.fangraphs.com, during the 2007 season, Peavy averaged 93.9 MPH with his fastball, topping out at 100.2 MPH. Over the next seven seasons Peavy’s velocity on his fastball would drop from 92.6 to 91.8 to 91.1 to 90.4 to 90.7 (he stayed at this speed for both 2012-13) to finally 89.9 MPH in 2014. The drop of 2.7 MPH may not seem like much, but it can be the difference between a hitter swinging and missing or the batter launching a ball into the seats.
Something else that both Peavy and the Giants will need to be successful is health.
The 2003 season marked Peavy’s first full season in the majors, he made 32 starts that season. Subsequently, during a six-year stretch from 2003-2008, he made an average of 33 starts per year.
Things started to change in 2009.
While rounding third base on May 22, 2009, Peavy strained a tendon in the back of his ankle. The injury was a main factor in the right hander only making 16 starts, three of which he made with the White Sox after being traded at the deadline.
Peavy played his first full season with Chicago in 2010. The injury bug struck him again as he exited the second inning of a game against the Los Angeles Angels with a sore arm on July 6. It was determined that Peavy had a detached latissimus dorsi muscle in his back, something that could be career threatening. The fiery right-hander was limited to 19 games in 2011 as he attempted to recover from his 2011 season.
Always the competitor, Peavy bounced back in 2012, making the American League All-Star team while finishing the season with an 11-12 record and 3.37 ERA. What was truly impressive was the fact that Peavy made 32 starts that season.
The injury bug struck Peavy again in 2013 as he suffered a left-rib fracture on June 4. He was traded to Boston on July 30, 2013 to help spur the Red Sox to a World Series title. Peavy finished with 23 starts in 2013.
He proved himself to be a workhorse again, making 32 starts in 2014. He averaged a little over six innings per start, something that San Francisco will gladly take.
Peavy’s competitive spirit and determination should also be something that other Giants build off. In the past Lincecum and Cain fueled each other through competition. Then Bumgarner came along and made it a trio before Ryan Vogelsong turned the competition into a quartet. With Peavy, the competition could be fierce and might just push the Giants towards another playoff appearance.
Cain told Giants’ insider Andrew Baggarly that, “[Peavy] throws with such a competitive edge. He just has that fire in him. That’s what you need in a rotation, for guys to push each other. We had that in the past and I think that’s a big reason we’ve been successful.”
With the competitive juices flowing, San Francisco fans should expect the 6-foot-1, 195-pound right-hander to put together a solid season. Look for approximately 27-31 starts from Peavy with an ERA in the mid-to-high three range. If the Giants are able to score enough runs, this is always a question mark when discussing the San Francisco lineup, then 10 to 12 wins could be expected as well. His official wins total should not matter, though, as much as quality starts he accrues, which could give the Giants’ bullpen plenty of opportunities to close out games.