With Spring Training kicking off next week, the Oakland Athletics are ready and waiting to defend their American League West crown. Yes, they’re in a very competitive division, but they won’t let that stop them.
2012 served as a turning point for this team and its fans, and fighting strongly in the postseason definitively proved that they are a team on the rise.
Whether it was from their pitching staff full of rookies, or their lineup made up of pieces just right to fit the puzzle, the 2012 Oakland Athletics were an incredible team.
One thing the team still needs to set is their rotation, however. And that could be a tricky matter.
Brandon McCarthy parted for the Diamondbacks this offseason. He went 8-6 with a 3.24 ERA in 111.0 innings last season. While he was not a number one type starter, or even a two, he was a solid piece of the rotation and will definitely be missed.
Another, more concerning factor, is that of Bartolo Colon.
Colon, who served a 50-game suspension last season after testing positive for PEDs, will be the subject of some undoubtedly unwanted attention in ensuing weeks. To make things worse, he is listed in the notes of some recently outed documents relating to PED usage, so he will have to really prove himself worthy of receiving a starting role after this spring, both on the field and off.
There is a brighter side, however. One major aspect to this team’s new identity has been their recent influx of young, talented, rookie pitchers. More specifically, the ones who have made an immediate impact in Oakland— Tommy Milone, Jarrod Parker, A.J. Griffin and Dan Straily— were magnificent last year in their rookie campaigns, the postseason included.
So with Colon tentatively on the outs as of right now, let’s look at what Oakland’s rotation did in 2012, and what it might look like come April:
#1) LHP -Brett Anderson-
Last season, the twenty-five year old lefty came back from Tommy John surgery just in time to accommodate the injured Brandon McCarthy, when he went down after being hit in the head by a line drive. Going 4-2 with a 2.57 ERA in just six games, Anderson struck out twenty-five, and walked only seven in thirty-five innings during the end of the regular season.
The big 6′ 4″, two-hundred and thirty-three pounder will make the attempt at pitching in his first full season since recovering from Tommy John surgery, and, though he earned two losses in a row to the finish the regular season, he was right on point in his lone post-season appearance against Detroit: In six smooth innings of work, Anderson gave the A’s a two-hit two-walk shutout on his way to earning the W.
With the help of the training staff, he should be able to stay healthy throughout Spring Training and the regular season to retain his front of the rotation slot.
Moreover, it has been said that he will, in fact, not be on a pitch limit, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Bob Melvin played it safe with him every once in a while.
#2) RHP -Jarrod Parker-
In 2012, there was no other pitcher in Oakland better than Jarrod Parker. Among qualifying starters, he led the club in wins (13), ERA (3.47), and strikeouts (140). The young righty proved to be more than just another rookie arm in rotation, but rather an integral part to the team’s overall success:
In twenty-nine starts, he went 13-8 with a 3.47 ERA, struck out one-hundred and forty, walked sixty-three, and allowed only eleven home-runs through 181.1 innings of work. All of this while keeping batters to a sub-par .248 batting average, and a .670 OPS to boot. And though he was 0-2 in his two starts during the ALDS, his win/loss record is not at all indicative as to how he actually pitched; he went 6.1 innings in both starts, accumulated eleven strikeouts, and walked only two batters. In addition, one of the games he started was well within Oakland’s reach to win, as he allowed only two earned runs in his first game against Detroit. Nothing special, but still two great outings for the team’s pitching leader.
He pitches about the same at home and on the road, but there’s one major difference: On the road, his ERA becomes a bloated 4.54, compared to at home where it sits at a much better looking 2.61.
Overall, he’s a solid pitcher who throws for the strikeout, and is a more than capable number two or three in the rotation.
#3) LHP -Tommy Milone-
Milone was a huge (and much needed) surprise for the A’s last season, finishing a very close second to Jarrod Parker in most major statistical pitching categories. Although, you can’t really be surprised at what he did, because back in 2011, he went 5-0 for his former club the Washington Nationals as a September call-up, and so far he’s picked right back up where he left off for Oakland in 2012:
Finishing his first full rookie season, the young lefty went13-10 with an ERA of 3.74, accumulating one-hundred and thirty-seven strikeouts, while walking an astonishingly low thirty-six batters through one-hundred and ninety innings of work. That’s almost half the amount of walks through more innings than A’s pitching leader Jarrod Parker had allowed, which is incredible.
He’s also extra valuable because he serves as the only other lefty in the A’s starting rotation, so slotting him into the third spot is ideal for match-ups.
#4) RHP - A.J. Griffin-
Now here’s a solid arm. Prior to his big league call up, Griffin spent the last three seasons pitching at virtually every minor league level, amassing nineteen wins and eleven losses through two-hundred and eighty-nine innings.
He’s a polished arm, and adds a lot of depth to Oakland’s rotation. Unfortunately, he missed about a month of the regular season from the beginning of August to the beginning of September due to a shoulder injury, and he wasn’t called up to the show until the end of June. But, if given a full season in the majors, who knows how high the ceiling is for this kid:
In 2012, he went 7-1 with a 3.06 ERA over 82.1 innings. His strikeout rate isn’t as astonishing as that of Parker’s or Milone’s, but he’s got a good pitching arsenal, and doesn’t walk batters that often (he has a 2.1 walks-per-nine ratio). He could just as easily slide into the third or even second spot of the rotation, but being at the back end provides Oakland with some insurance power in their four spot.
#5) RHP -Dan Straily/RHP -Bartolo Colon-
Right now, Bartolo Colon is anything but a lock for the 5th spot in the rotation, as he is still in hot water after last season’s PED debacle. He had a very good 10-9 record with an ERA of 3.43 over 152.1 innings pitched in 2012, and it seemed as though he was turning his career numbers back towards the right direction. However, no one knows if that performance was a result of his use of the illegal substances.
This makes things much easier on newcomer Dan Straily, who wasn’t nearly as impressive in his seven starts as his rookie counterparts, but still came out with a winning record:
Through 39.1 innings pitched, Straily was 2-1 with an ERA of 3.89. He’s got an average strikeout rate (7.3 strikeouts-per-nine), but his walks could become a problem with his 3.7 walks-per-nine. He also allowed eleven home runs in his seven starts, so there are things he will need to work on during Spring Training. He does have impressive command of his fastball, which can reach up to 94mph, so there’s definitely a lot of up-side to this young righty. If he wins a starting job out of Spring Training, 2013 could be a very good year for the rookie.
So there you have it. Five (six if you include Colon) very good pitchers, the bulk of whom will be going into their sophomore seasons.
But there is one more factor that must be accounted for, and that is Travis Blackley.
Out of nowhere, (well, actually from the Giants) the twenty-nine year old Australian left handed reliever has found a new home in Oakland, and has quickly become an important piece in the A’s bullpen.
Not only that, he became increasingly more valuable as a spot-starter when Brandon McCarthy and A.J. Griffin went down with
injuries, so it seems as though his stock is rising:
As a reliever, he was 1-0 with a 1.54 ERA through 23.1 innings with fourteen strikeouts. More interestingly, however, as a starter, he went 5-4 with a 4.54 ERA over 79.1 innings, so he is valuable because, despite the ERA, he can get the job done.
Blackley will most likely start the season as a long-reliever, and be used as a spot starter to give the set rotation a solid back-up should somebody go down.
If I were Oakland, I would feel very confident going into 2013, with the only question mark being who my number five starter will be. This is not a bad position to be in, and it makes the situation that much easier when you have two (three including Blackley) pretty good options for that back-end spot.
With the Houston Astros joining the American League West, the A’s should be able to take full advantage of a, by far, inferior squad.
Oakland won ninety-four times last year, and I firmly believe they can do the same to defend their title in this coming season.
The city of Oakland will be Bernie-Leaning on their AL Western division champions, but, for a team that took their division by storm, maybe, just maybe, they aren’t the underdogs anymore.