Minor league strikeout leader Dan Straily (190 strikeouts in 152 innings) will return to the majors on Tuesday night, starting in place of the recently injured Brandon McCarthy.
In his start against the Angels on Sept. 5, McCarthy was struck in the head by a line drive off the bat of Erick Aybar. He was taken to the hospital for tests and underwent surgery later that night to remove an epidural hematoma near his brain.
The right-hander continues to make progress just days after the operation, as he was able to walk down the hallway and climb four steps at the Bay Area hospital where he’s been recovering.
With McCarthy already making strides in his recovery, the focus is gradually returning to the impact his undefined absence will have on the starting rotation.
Following Bartolo Colon’s 50-game suspension for a performance-enhancing substance, McCarthy, 29, served as the elder presence in the A’s starting rotation.
The right-hander enjoyed the best season of his career in 2011, going 9-9 with a 3.32 ERA and 1.3 BB/9 over 25 starts. The A’s signed him to a one-year deal this past offseason to avoid arbitration.
Despite two separate stints on the disabled list for shoulder soreness, McCarthy has anchored the A’s young rotation this season with an 8-6 record, 3.24 ERA and 1.9 K/9 over 18 starts.
At the time of his injury, McCarthy paced the rotation with a 2.3 WAR and adjusted ERA of 123. (Bartolo Colon owned a 2.8 WAR before receiving the season-ending suspension.)
The team will now have to rely on 23-year-old Jarrod Parker (9-8, 3.67 ERA), 25-year-old Tommy Milone (12-10, 3.90 ERA), 24-year-olds A.J. Griffin (5-0, 2.21 ERA) and Brett Anderson (4-0, 0.69 ERA), and the newcomer, Straily.
Although the loss of McCarthy could potentially alter the course of the A’s unexpectedly successful 2012 season, they’re as well equipped as any team to replace him.
Selected by the A’s in the 24th round of the 2009 first-year player draft out of Marshall University, Straily, 23, has quickly gone from an organizational arm to arguably a top-50 prospect.
The right-hander spent his first full professional season at Low-A Kane County in 2010, where he posted a 4.32 ERA and 1.35 WHIP with 149 strikeouts in 148 innings.
Straily improved his ERA and WHIP to 3.87 and 1.25, respectively, in 2011 at High-A, registering 154 strikeouts and 40 walks in 160.2 innings.
This season, however, he’s separated himself from the field.
Opening the season at Double-A Midland, Straily registered a 3.38 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 11.4 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9 in 85.1 innings before earning a promotion to Triple-A Sacramento.
The domination only continued at the new level, as he posted a 2.02 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 11.1 K/9 and 2.6 BB/9 in 66.2 innings.
The 6’2”, 215-pounder was called up to make his major league debut on Aug. 3, earning a no-decision against the Blue Jays after allowing one earned run on five hits and one walk with five strikeouts over six innings.
He ultimately made two more starts for A’s on Aug. 8 (Angels) and Aug. 16 (his first major league win against Royals) before Brett Anderson’s activation from the disabled list made him the odd man out in the starting rotation.
Straily returns to the major leagues with a 3.18 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 12 strikeouts and four walks in 17 innings.
He doesn’t have textbook overpowering stuff, despite what his strikeout totals may indicate. Rather, the right-hander possesses an arsenal of four above-average pitches.
He boasts a fastball that works in the 90-94 mph range with late arm-side life, and he’s adept at commanding it on both sides of the plate. When he establishes the pitch and uses it to set up his offspeed offerings, he draws a considerable amount of swing-and-misses.
Straily mixes in an above-average slider with late bite, as well as a curveball (to offer a different look when necessary) and plus changeup—his best out pitch.
In a lot of ways, McCarthy and Straily are cut from the same mold, with the former a much more highly touted prospect coming up in the Chicago White Sox’s system.
Much like McCarthy, Straily reached the major leagues in his fourth professional season.
Although it admittedly makes little sense to compare major league stats to minor league ones, both pitchers have generated favorable ground-ball rates (Straily: 38.7 percent ground-ball rate this season in the minor leagues; McCarthy: 39.8 percent career ground-ball rate in 654.1 major league innings).
McCarthy has always done an excellent job keeping the ball in the park, too, as evidenced by his 1.0 career HR/9 over seven big league seasons. This has only been magnified since he joined the A’s and began pitching home games in the Coliseum, as he posted a 0.6 HR/9 in 2011 and 0.8 HR/9 in 2012 before his season-ending injury last Wednesday.
Most importantly, both pitchers have exhibited excellent command, especially as it relates to their respective fastballs.
Pitching for three organizations spanning seven seasons, McCarthy has registered a career 2.6 BB/9 rate, having issued 191 free passes in 654.1 innings. Similarly, Straily owns a career 2.8 BB/9 rate in 519.2 minor league innings spanning four seasons.
One interesting trend worth following: as a minor leaguer ascending the White Sox’s system from 2002-2005, McCarthy posted strikeout rates that ranged from 9.8 to 11.1 K/9. However, in the major leagues, his career K/9 rate sits at 6.1.
Straily boasts a 9.1 K/9 rate over his minor league career, but fanned only 12 batters in his first 17 major leagues innings (6.4 K/9). Obviously, this is an incredibly small sample size and doesn’t necessary warrant a comparison, but given the other glaring similarities, it’s hard to overlook.
Will Dan Straily step in to the A’s rotation and immediately offer Brandon McCarthy-like value? No. But when his potential is combined with that of Parker, Milone, Griffin and Anderson, they are arguably as strong as ever.
Therefore, the team will rely on what’s made them successful up to this point: young and blossoming players functioning as a whole.