Forget the Japan series; the A's season really starts now. With a few moves yesterday, they, at long last, have finalized their 25-man roster. Here are some brief notes about the pitchers who will don the green and gold come April 1st.
Joe Blanton, RHP
Pros: Blanton is as durable as they come, and is as safe a bet to pitch 200 innings this year as anyone. He has very good control and does not walk many batters. He has a big-breaking 12-to-6 curve that is a true plus-pitch when it's on.
Cons: Blanton is around the strike zone so much that he gives up a lot of contact, putting a ton of pressure on the defense to help him. While his fastball, curve, slider, and changeup are all rated average to plus, the combination of the pitches isn't enough to give Blanton a high strikeout rate.
My take: Blanton's no ace, and he really shouldn't be starting opening day for a team with contention hopes. Still, he is a valuable commodity because his durability provides stability in the rotation. Blanton's a perfect third starter, a good second, but a stretch as an ace.
Rich Harden, RHP
Pros: Harden probably has the best stuff of any righthander in the major leagues. He throws a four-seam fastball that goes from 93-102 mph, a two-seamer from 91-97 with great run and sink, a wicked slider, a splitter with knuckleball action (Harden calls it a "spluckle") that drops hard and late, and a changeup that gets even the best hitters way out in front.
His mechanics are clean and his control is sound. His stats tend to match his stuff pretty well, as he has struck out more than a batter an inning the last several seasons.
Cons: Harden simply cannot stay healthy. He's hurt his oblique, his right shoulder, his right elbow, his left shoulder, and a whole host of other things. He has only pitched one complete MLB season and has made only 13 starts the past two seasons combined.
My take: The A's desperately need Harden to be healthy because, as I said before, Blanton isn't really a number one starter. If Harden is healthy, the rotation (and the team as a whole) looks a lot better. Harden did look incredible for six innings in Japan against the Red Sox, notching the A's first win of the year, showing the incredible stuff he has, and most importantly, staying healthy.
Also, Harden and Blanton are trade candidates, especially if Harden demonstrates continued health. If trades are made for the two righties, a deep and talented farm system could get even deeper.
Chad Gaudin, RHP
Pros: Gaudin's best pitch is his slider, and he has a good fastball and changeup to complement it. He has ample MLB experience for his age, as he is a five-year veteran at age 25. He is a strong groundball pitcher, as 51.1 percent of balls in play off of him last year were grounders. He also struck out 154 last year.
Cons: Gaudin's control is shakier than most, evidenced by his 100 walks last year, and his command of the strike zone varies from start to start. He isn't very big, so durability is a concern. He threw 199 1/3 innings last year, but tired in the second half and had two offseason surgeries. He showed no ill effects in spring, however.
My take: Gaudin is interesting because he seems older than he is because of his experience. Since he's still young, he's got a chance at eventually solving his control issues. If he can cut his walks by 25 percent, Gaudin would go from a good number four guy to a front-of-the-rotation type starter, although he needs to prove he can stay healthy.
Justin Duchscherer, RHP
Pros: Duchscherer is a lot like Blanton in that he throws strikes with a big curve and low-90s fastball. He excelled in a relief role, but has starting experience in both the minor and major leagues. He always wanted to start, and has taken well to being converted from relief work.
Cons: Duchscherer had several injuries last year that shut him down for most of 2007, most notably his hip. As opposed to Gaudin, he's older than you would think because he started his MLB career later than most, so his upside is less than it may appear. Duchscherer is an older version of Blanton, but with similar injury caveats to Gaudin, which makes him less valuable than either of them.
My take: Duchscherer is a bit of an unknown because he hasn't started for three years and is coming off injury problems into a new role. Still, he's just the fourth starter, and his stuff and command seems good enough for the role.
The danger here is that if Harden gets hurt, Blanton needs to be an ace, Gaudin a number two and Duchscherer a number three, and that's asking just a bit too much from all of them.
Dana Eveland, LHP
Pros: The only lefty in the rotation. He throws hard for a lefty and has a good slider-curve combo to back it up. He has dominated the minors and put up a 1.29 ERA in spring training this year, so he certainly earned the job.
Cons: Eveland's conditioning issues are nearly impossible to overlook; he is 6'1" and upwards of 250 pounds. He has struggled mightily in previous MLB stints with Milwaukee and Arizona in both starting and relief roles. His changeup isn't very good, which leads many people to think he's better off as a reliever.
Many scouts belief Eveland's weight is the cause of his MLB struggles because it compromises his mechanics. Eveland doesn't have a very repeatable delivery out of the windup, and his mechanics are inconsistent from the stretch.
It seems like every few batters he loses his release point and struggles for a few batters until he finds it again. As a starter, you can't get away with that.
My take: It's really easy to see the David Wells comparison if you watch Eveland throw an inning; in fact, if Eveland slowed his delivery down a bit they'd have the exact same windup. Thus, Eveland obviously has some upside, but I'd personally like to see him prove himself in the bullpen first.
However, given his excellent spring, Eveland may have turned the corner and you can't really question the decision. If he falters, there are plenty of guys who can be good fifth starters.
Huston Street, RHP
Pros: Street has a wicked two-seam fastball that ranks among the best in the game. He throws a good slider and changeup as well, and his delivery makes all his pitches hard to read. He was the best reliever in baseball as a rookie in 2005 (as measured by WXRL (Wins Expected Above Replacement Level) and is still young.
Cons: Street has more meltdowns than you'd like to see in your closer, as evidenced by his blown save and subsequent loss on Opening Day against the Red Sox. He has the second-most blown saves in MLB over the last three years. He has also spent time on the DL the last two years.
My take: Street is a good closer, but he seems to be getting slightly worse every year at a young age, which isn't a good sign, especially coupled with his durability issues. Street has been brought up in trades as well, but while I think the A's would be wise to hang on to Blanton and Harden, Street may be a bit overrated, and thus he may bring back more value than he's worth. Nothing against him though; Street is excellent, and it isn't all that unlikely that he could get better still.
Alan Embree, LHP
Pros: Embree has a rather unique skill set. He really has just one pitch, a fastball. (He throws a slider occasionally, but it's not very good and he only throws it to change speeds once in a while). Most veteran situational lefties are finesse guys with good breaking pitches, but Embree just throws letter-high fastballs on the inside corner pitch after pitch after pitch. The strategy seems unsound, but it works for him. He is OK against righties as well, and has closing experience if Street goes down again.
Cons: You lose velocity as you get older, and the fact that Embree succeeds with his approach at 38 is remarkable as it is. It will catch up to him eventually, and when it does he will have nothing to fall back on.
My take: Is this the year where Embree's formula stops working? Maybe it is, maybe it isn't, but if the A's are really rebuilding they'd be well-served to deal him for a prospect or two before he implodes. Even if he keeps doing this another five years, it wouldn't be a mistake.
Keith Foulke, RHP
Pros: Foulke has had a year off, so his arm is fresh, and he retired early anyway, so he's actually nearly three years younger than Embree. His changeup remains excellent and he looked good against the Red Sox. He spots his fastball-changeup combo masterfully.
Cons: Foulke's velocity is terrible, as his fastball usually tops out in the mid-80's. He got lit up in the spring in most of his appearances. His stats went way south in the last two years he pitched, and he dealt with numerous injuries.
My take: As with Embree, Foulke's style leaves him with a very small margin for error and his age and skills have little value to a "rebuilding" team. His signing didn't make much sense to me, but if he gets dealt for young players, the A's will have turned nothing into something.
If Foulke and Embree are A's on August 1st, it will mean one of two things: either a) the A's are in the playoff hunt or b) Billy Beane just wasted a couple million dollars.
Santiago Casilla, RHP
Pros: Casilla throws a mid-90s fastball and mid-80s slide, which are both plus pitches when they're on. His arms-and-legs delivery makes the ball jump on the hitter even more.
Cons: Casilla has the usual caveats that come with young Dominican power righties. Primary among these is lack of real strike zone command. One night Casilla is unhittable; the next night everything is in the dirt or right down the middle. Gaining consistency with his command and mechanics is crucial to his development.
My take: You can find bullpen arms almost anywhere if you know where to look. Seriously, trading Street, Embree, and Foulke for prospects and installing Casilla as the closer wouldn't hurt the bullpen too much. It's just an idea, but one Billy Beane should think about if he gets some good offers. Not that Casilla is amazing, but there are worse relievers (ahem, Joe Borowski) who do just fine in the role, so he'll probably be good enough.
Andrew Brown, RHP
Pros: Brown is nothing like Casilla physically; he's a big guy (and you can't have a much more American name) who throws straight overhand to Casilla's three-quarters. However, stuff-wise, the two are very similar, and that's a good thing.
Cons: Brown's delivery is long and laborious, and he loses his release point a lot, so the consistency/command issues that Casilla has are also present here. Casilla rates higher because his delivery is more deceptive and his pitches are just slightly better.
My take: Brown is a serviceable 6th-7th inning type guy who might become more if he fixes his mechanics a bit. He's fine where he is for now.
Lenny DiNardo, LHP
Pros: DiNardo has started and relieved with success. He throws a ton of different pitches (four-seamer, two-seamer, curve, slider, change, cutter) that he controls well. All his pitches have a lot of movement on them.
Cons: DiNardo has nothing in the way of velocity, as his fastball tops out at 85-86 mph. Hitters can always make contact with his pitches, so they just foul them off again and again until he makes a mistake. Because of this, DiNardo has to work off the plate a lot. When a guy whose calling card is control walks over three batters per nine innings and has a K/BB ratio of just 1.1, that's not a good sign.
My take: DiNardo has no room for error either, but his 4.11 ERA shows that he can at least be the 12th pitcher on a roster. Still, if the A's are a) going to carry just 11 pitchers and b) make one of those guys a Rule 5 pick (Fernando Hernandez), I would've liked to see them put someone with a bit more upside here.
DiNardo does have a decent amount of value in that he can eat innings for your bullpen, which helps if you carry 11 pitchers and one of them is Rich Harden. If DiNardo struggles in April, though, he really should be swapped for someone with something more in the way of stuff.
Fernando Hernandez, RHP
Pros: Hernandez has pitched very well up through AA ball, and has excellent breaking stuff. His strong spring backed up the idea that he is ready for the majors.
Cons: Hernandez doesn't throw too hard, maybe 92 tops, which limits his ceiling. I'd like to see Beane pick some higher-upside guys in the Rule 5, because Hernandez, like Tyler Johnson and Jay Marshall before him, is pretty much restricted to setup work at best. Hernandez pitched in a very pitcher-friendly park in AA last year, which could make him look better than he is.
My take: He's worth a look, but with so many good arms on the River Cats and RockHounds, Hernandez isn't worth keeping if he struggles and some of the other prospects do well.
Hitter reports will be up later today or tomorrow.