Projected San Francisco Giants rotation after signing Blake Snell

The San Francisco Giants have quietly assembled one of the more fear-inducing one-two punches of starting rotations in MLB after the Blake Snell signing, but the back-end leaves some question marks.

San Diego Padres v San Francisco Giants
San Diego Padres v San Francisco Giants / Lachlan Cunningham/GettyImages

Finally, the stalemate is over. Though it honestly felt like at one point we may go into the MLB regular season without the reigning NL Cy Young winner having signed with a team in free agency, Blake Snell and his agent Scott Boras finally struck a deal. Snell signs a two-year deal with the San Francisco Giants that affords him opportunities to re-enter the market after one season.

The Giants have taken some losses in free agency the last few years, getting close to the finish line with Aaron Judge and Shohei Ohtani but striking out. Finally, their aggression to be in the market pays off with Snell.

Snell has won two Cy Young awards, including last season with the Padres. He joins an already-solid rotation that should be feared but may have some backend problems to figure out how to work around.

1. Blake Snell

The Giants could go one of two ways with their starting, ace pitcher, but my thinking is they're more likely to go with the newly-signed Snell than their 2023 ace, Logan Webb. It would be unsurprising to see Webb be the lead starter instead, but Snell's style lends itself more to a lead, ace-quality level of play than Webb.

Snell was a Cy Young winner in '23 for a reason. He ranked in the 100th percentile in pitching run value, including 70th in fastball run value and 100th/99th in breaking/offspead run values. He balances velocity and movement better than almost any pitcher in the game.

San Francisco would be well advised to slot Snell in as their ace because of his incredible strikeout (31.5 percent) and whiff rate (37.3 percent) which put him in high percentiles in 2023 as well. It would take the load off of the defense behind him.

While there's certainly no rule saying your No. 1 pitcher needs to have a dominant four-seam fastball, that is a common trait of some of the best aces in the game, which Snell has. While he threw it a bit less frequently in 2023 in favor of working in his changeup and curveball, those pitches were great complements to the four-seamer.

The curveball, in particular, worked really well as a putaway pitch (33.5 percent putaway rate) and the changeup played well off the fastball.

2. Logan Webb

I believe Snell to be the best No. 1 slot option for the Giants, but Logan Webb could easily slide up to that spot, especially if the Giants think Snell may need some time to ramp up to game readiness with him having missed most of Spring Training due to his elongated free agency negotiations.

With the Giants missing out on the postseason in 2023 and boasting a generally disappointing 79-83 season that placed them fourth in the division, Logan Webb's positive 2023 generally got lost in the mix.

Webb's .283 wOBA ranked 18th in the league, and he had a top-five walks per nine innings rate (1.3).

Webb is not a stirkeout pitcher but got manageable balls in play. He led MLB in ground ball rate (62.1%). Batters hit hard against Webb, but the contact was seldom good. He was in the 86th percentile in chase rate per Baseball Savant.

In 2023, the pitch that emerged as nearly unplayable for batters was his changeup, which logged an incredible 28 run value per Savant, a huge jump from the 1 and 12 it produced in 2021 and 2022, respectively. He used the pitch 41.6 percent of the time, a huge jump from the 31.2 percent usage it got the year before.

Like other groundball pitchers, Webb seldom uses a classic four-seam fastball.

2024 will be all about seeing whether or not Webb can keep that changeup at an effective rate as it was in 2023. He played it about evenly off his two-seam and four-seam fastball. His fastball and slider were used less frequently, but played off each other in sequencing, giving some movement and unpredictability to his pitch profiling for batters to be concerned about.

3. Jordan Hicks

While the Giants expect solid, above-average seasons from its top two in the rotation, third and below is where things start to get uncertain. Jordan Hicks has been used effectively in a relief role for previous teams -- the St. Louis Cardinals and Toronto Raptors -- but has not effectively been used as a full-time starter.

He was tracked for a starting role at one point but retreated out of the bullpen so the Cardinals could get him up to the majors quicker. Now, heading into free agency, Hicks prioritized landing spots that would allow him to start and found a home with the Giants.

That's a potentially risky move for San Francisco, but Hicks found decent footing in the second half of 2023 after being traded to the Toronto Raptors. With the Blue Jays he improved his WHIP from around 1.5 with the Cardinals to 1.083 with the Jays and lowered his ERA from mid-3s to 2.63.

In St. Louis, Hicks had historically struggled with high leverage relief situations, so perhaps coming in with a 0-0 score where he can dictate the start of the game -- rather than playing clean-up -- will be a welcome change of starting scenery for him.

Like Webb, Hicks is a groundball-heavy pitcher but does mix in a good deal of strikeouts as well. It will be interesting to see how Hicks and the Giants change up his pitch arsenal profile as a starter, if they do at all.

Hicks has professed his intention is to pitch lots of innings even if it's at the expense of velocity.

4. Kyle Harrison

Kyle Harrison gets bumped from second to third in the rotation as a part of the Snell transaction, which is a far more suitable position for him in the team's rotation as he projects to make the leap from the minors to the majors. Harrison started seven games in 2023 for the Giants, relying on a four-seamer and slider/curveball mix pitch, with a minor usage of a changeup.

Harrison has been good in spring training so far with just two earned runs in 9.1 innings so far.

5. Mason Black

Closing out the rotation could be a number of players, but based on Spring Training action, right now it figures to be Mason Black, who has started three spring games and performed relatively well. Black is another young prospect, just 24.

Spencer Howard is an option if the Giants want to go with someone for the fifth spot that has big-league experience. His results in the majors, though, have been verifiably sub-par with a career ERA of 7.20.

Going with a young arm might be preferable since the Giants have some veteran starters who may rejoin the rotation at some point. They can use the vacant spot as a chance to get a prospect some valuable experience.