The Oakland Athletics pitching staff is not quite up to par as a whole if you use the successful backdrop of last season as a barometer. But decent performances and excellent individual parts, like Bartolo Colon and Grant Balfour, are keeping the A's afloat as Oakland's offense rains down on opponents.
Those two pitchers are clear favorites for the top spot in a power ranking of the A's hurlers who have logged at least 20 innings (sorry, Thursday winner Jesse Chavez). Beyond them is the real question, especially considering the sophomore slumping of three returning starters.
Before Thursday's victory over the New York Yankees, Oakland was 7-6 when Tommy Milone, Jarrod Parker or A.J. Griffin was on the mound, and all three have had rough periods.
Another year of ace injury doesn't help, though Brandon McCarthy seemed a regular stalwart last year in comparison to this season's issue.
At least the relievers are all developing, except for that recent deluge brought upon Jon Heyman-hating Sean Doolittle.
Let's see where he's fallen to in the power rankings and who has risen above the reliever.
No 100-plus-game ban, please.
In his 13 starts this season, Colon has allowed more than three earned runs just twice en route to an 8-2 record. Oakland is 10-3 when the veteran takes the hill, in large part because of his 1.09 WHIP and blazing fastball. It's not surprising that Colon's wins above replacement (2.2) is the highest on Oakland's staff.
The way that Colon throws almost seems too good to be true. The guy can win games, as he's proved over his long career, and the A's would be in trouble if he were to be suspended by the league.
Sure, potential replacement Sonny Gray has some promise, but he's no former Cy Young winner.
Praising the pitching of Grant Balfour is all the rage.
See what I did there?
The angry Australian, known for spouting off expletives between throws, hasn't blown a save this season in 16 tries.
Allowing four runs in 27.2 innings of work while tossing 28 strikeouts puts Balfour's success just behind that of Bartolo Colon this season.
Since coming into the closing role amid a bit of drama involving previous manager Bob Geren, Balfour has found some success with Oakland. He has blown just four saves since the start of last season and continues to grow as a leader in the clubhouse.
No wonder Coliseum-goers endeared themselves to Balfour and his ongoing rage.
Though Dan Straily has made fewer starts than the rest of the Oakland Athletics rotation, the rookie is performing at a stellar level as a fill-in for Brett Anderson.
Oakland is 7-2 in Straily's starts, only losing in back-to-back bad outings in mid-May.
But since catcher Derek Norris conferred with the right-hander after that second defeat, Straily has shown the excellence that makes him Oakland's second-best starter this season. Seventeen strikeouts against 18 hits and six earned runs in 26 innings on the mound make Anderson's absence less troublesome.
His four-pitch repertoire and excellent command combine for a solid No. 5 starter who throws like a No. 2 guy.
In this case, he's much more reliable than the somewhat slumping trio of sophomores in Tommy Milone, Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin—although they aren't far behind on this list.
Tommy Milone doesn't get any points for his last name rhyming with No. 1 on this list, although he still has a slight edge over the two other Oakland Athletics sophomore starting pitchers.
Milone leads the A's in strikeouts (69) and is only behind Bartolo Colon in ERA (3.69). It's true that the left-hander had a slight blip in May, allowing 24 runs in six outings, but he's bounced back in June, with only three earned runs in 14 innings.
Furthermore, two of his five losses came in games where didn't allow a run; Oakland's offense just couldn't score. Beside those two decisions, the A's are 7-4 when Milone is on the mound.
He's been more consistent than Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin. Milone has given up just nine combined hits in his last two games, including just one run in a 4-1 loss on Saturday.
Jerry Blevins is in the midst of his best start of his six full seasons with the Oakland Athletics. The left-handed reliever has notched a 2.12 ERA in 29.2 innings, which are the fewest runs allowed per nine than anyone on the team except closer Grant Balfour.
There's a reason he's thrice arrived after Balfour in extra innings, tossing a frame for a win. The best example was in the 19-inning marathon, when he followed Brett Anderson to the mound and tallied five outs before Brandon Moss launched the game-winning home run.
Blevins is 5-0 on the season, including victories in all three of those extra-inning contests, to match his total from last season. Plus, he's posted a .98 WHIP, tops on the team.
Blevins is still the setup guy—or the come-in-and-mop-up guy—but he's done a darn good job of it.
Just a hair behind Jerry Blevins is Ryan Cook, the actual Oakland Athletics setup reliever.
In the same number of innings (29), Cook has a comparable but trailing ERA (2.40) and the most strikeouts per nine innings (9.90) on the team. Also, Grant Balfour's usual predecessor has the second most holds behind Sean Doolittle (more on him later).
Perhaps most impressive is that Cook is the only pitcher on the staff to not allow a home run this season.
Half of his six earned runs allowed came in a four-game stretch when he gave up seven hits. Take away that burst of poor play, and opponents have batted just .168 against Cook.
The right-hander still isn't the perfect pitcher he was for the first 23 innings of his A's career, when he didn't allow a single run to start last season, but he's certainly a reliable gun out of Oakland's bullpen.
There's no doubt that Jarrod Parker has improved since he started the season 0-4. The Oakland Athletics pitcher has registered a quality start in his last six outings.
Parker is still prone to allowing a couple of runs per game—he's logged just one start without giving up a run—which gives him the worst ERA of Oakland's four steady starters.
However, his recent rally of four of five wins, including three in a row, has him climbing back up this list.
Since letting the Cleveland Indians go yard on him four times on May 6, Parker has given up only five dingers in seven games on the mound. That is a microcosm of Parker's season.
The right-hander will require an even bigger comeback if he wants to return to his 2012 form, when he had a 3.7 wins above replacement (a lowly .3 this year). In the meantime, the A's must like his progress.
Despite making the fewest appearances of any regular Oakland Athletics reliever, Pat Neshek is not the worst of them. That honor is reserved for a man who's been quite rocky on the mound lately.
With such a high standard for the bullpen in the last two seasons, Neshek drops to this spot in the list, although he continues to be a problem solver for the A's.
The odd-throwing righty has often been called on to pitch less than a full frame at a time but has given up only six runs so far in 22.2 innings of work.
That's impressive considering opponents bat .253 against him. They may get on base, but Neshek doesn't let them come home or leave them in undesired positions for the guy who relieves him.
Still a quick fixer, Neshek continues to be more steady than most. But that means he's also not been stellar.
A.J. Griffin either has a great day or a grisly one.
In more than half of his starts, he has allowed at least three runs. Five of them came with four or more runs.
But the A's have won five of the six starts he's made when he gave up two or fewer runs. Two of those gems were eight-strikeout victories, helping him to the second-highest K total on the team.
Griffin's bumpy season has been the most up-and-down of any of Oakland's sophomores. When he's on, he's on—and fans must hope he'll find his stride again.
His 10 earned runs allowed in the five games since drop him to this spot.
Until he blew up at Heyman for dissing O.co Coliseum, Doolittle had given up just two runs—each on solo home runs, to Carlos Pena and Chris Davis—in 23 innings while striking out 24. He led the A's with 10 holds.
Then batters blew up on Doolittle, as the left-hander twice allowed two runs and twice allowed three.
A's fans surely know this. He has been a thorn in Oakland's side during the team's recent streaking stretch. And all he wanted to do was stick up for the Coliseum!
Doolittle obviously can return to form in time, but these last five outings lower his ranking.
Where have you been, Brett Anderson?
However, this is his second straight year with an injury hampering his time on the mound.
Beside a spotless 10-strikeout, five-hit win on April 7 (against the Houston Astros, of all teams) and the heroic 5.1 innings of work late in the 19-inning marathon win over the Los Angeles Angels, Anderson has been invisible this season.
His other four outings have been torturous, with the left-hander giving up 19 runs including four in only one frame of throwing to Tampa Bay.
At least Bartolo Colon has stepped into his spot as the team's top hurler.