Sonny Gray pitched very effectively in 2013, earning a starting role this season.
The calendar has turned and as we head toward spring training, it's time to look ahead to who will be part of the Oakland A's starting rotation.
2013 ended with a rotation of Bartolo Colon, Jarrod Parker, Sonny Gray, A.J. Griffin and Dan Straily. Brett Anderson spent the majority of his time on the disabled list and did a stint in the bullpen. Tommy Milone—an effective starter in 2012—was relegated to Triple-A at one point and pitched out of the bullpen a few times, too.
In their place, the A's signed Scott Kazmir and acquired a few arms who could fight for a spot in the rotation. Outside of Kazmir, the rest will be hard-pressed to earn the final spot.
As of this writing, the Oakland Athletics website lists the following order: Parker, Griffin, Kazmir, Straily and Gray. Although you may notice this note on the depth chart: "Projected by MLB.com and not subject to the approval of the Oakland Athletics."
ESPN projects the rotation to be Parker, Gray, Kazmir, Straily then Griffin.
There you have it. MLB and ESPN's guesses. Now here is mine, on behalf of Bleacher Report. The list is in ascending order from one to five.
All statistics are courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
In 2012, Parker just hoped to make the fifth spot in the roation.
Parker started 2013 as the No. 2 pitcher after Brett Anderson, but a lot happened throughout the year. Anderson succumbed to injury, Bartolo Colon returned from suspension (one rotation at that point) and Tommy Milone eventually was sent down.
You could make the argument that, after all of the shuffles, Parker became the ace by the end of the season.
Regardless if Parker or Colon was the ace, it's a moot point.
Colon and Anderson are gone. Parker is clearly the best pitcher on staff right now. He has the second-most experience (scary thought) behind Scott Kazmir and better stuff than anyone else (Gray is up there). Not only that, but he also has experience pitching well in the postseason (indicating he can pitch under pressure), and he bounced back after a terrible start (showing he's capable of rebounding midseason).
The No. 1 spot is clear: it's Jarrod Parker's.
Sonny will shine pitching second.
There are really only two guys for the second spot in the rotation: Sonny Gray or Scott Kazmir.
The A's may be inclined to put Kazmir here for a veteran presence. Instead they should throw caution to the wind and give the spot to Gray. Here's why.
Gray is coming off a 2013 campaign in which he won five games and lost three. While that might not be all that impressive, he did so while locking down a 2.67 ERA in 12 games total. Not only was it his first go, but he was also just 23 years old at the time.
Gray handled the pressure just fine.
It's a good thing, too, because the A's called on him to pitch like an ace in the postseason. Through 13 innings pitched, he kept a 2.08 ERA and allowed just three runs. One of those games pitted him against the Justin Verlander.
If Gray kept the same rate (.500 win percentage in games started, .300 loss percentage) and pitched as many games as Kazmir, he would have gone 14-9. More wins, as many losses and plausibly a lower ERA in this hypothetical situation.
You might say Gray has a small sample size. And that's fair.
But neither man was in Major League Baseball in 2012. One reason is because he was young and pitching in the minors as a top prospect; the other because he couldn't find a team.
If all five pitchers were to stay healthy and make every start, the first two would pitch in one more game than the rest. Just one. With game 162 on the line, who would you trust: Gray or Kazmir?
Based on recent experience, the A's must go Gray.
Granted, after 161 games, we'll certainly know more when it comes to who to trust at that point.
Kazmir will at least look better in a throwback A's uniform.
Last season Kazmir pitched in 29 games, going 10-9 with a 4.04 ERA. Oakland is hopeful 2013 was the start of a rebound for the once-upon-a-time prospect. But the jury is still out.
Last season's record still isn't all that dazzling. The year before, he was out of Major League Baseball.
Still, in those 29 games, Kazmir only gave up 19 home runs. He also struck out 162 while walking just 47. If he were on the 2013 A's, that would be the third-lowest home runs allowed of starting pitchers with more than 25 starts. It'd be the third-lowest walks and the second-most strikeouts, too.
Middle of the road projections.
That puts Kazmir in the middle of the rotation this year.
Tommy Milone WILL make his way back into the rotation.
Not what you were expecting?
In 2012, Jarrod Parker and Tommy Milone came on board with the organization. In spring training, Parker hoped to grab the fifth spot in the rotation while it remained to be seen if Milone would be the Sacramento River Cats ace or the No. 2 guy in the Triple-A rotation. Interestingly enough, Parker and Milone made the big league squad.
Milone finished that season as one of the best pitchers on the team and pitched the most innings of all the pitchers for the Athletics. He tied for most wins with Parker.
Furthermore, he pitched in one postseason game, six innings of it at least, and only allowed one run.
Then 2013 happened.
It wasn't that Milone was bad, it was that he had little consistency. You never knew what you were going to get. At one point the A's sent him down. In a few games, they opted to use him out of the bullpen.
But Milone has promise.
He arrived with Parker. He earned a spot in the rotation with Parker, and the two led the way down the stretch and into playoffs two years ago. Then they both struggled in their second season with the A's. Parker simply rebounded more efficiently: beginning terribly, ending terrifically.
Milone went up and down all year.
In 2014, Milone will find it again.
Fangraphs.com projects Milone to see a slight decrease in strikeouts, but a healthy decrease in walks and home runs allowed too. His BABIP should rebound toward the league average of .290 to .300 as well (context: Milone's BABIP was .310 in 2012 and .284 in 2013).
Griffin has the potential to be a solid back-end rotation guy.
Griffin is a solid option at the fifth spot. He's the kind of guy that, as he's shown, can be counted on to be fourth in line as well.
That said, the last spot in the rotation is a close race.
Here's what Griffin does well: The workhorse pitched 200 innings in 2013, the most on the team. He had the second-most wins as well, behind Colon. Additionally, he struck out the most batters of all A's pitchers with 171. The next closest was 134.
But home runs have been his Achilles' heel.
Griffin gave up 36 home runs last season, 11 more than the next guy. There's no other way to say it—that's awful.
The fifth spot is his, but that leaves one guy out. If he continues to allow so many home runs and regresses in other areas at all, he could be the next Athletic to be sent down for a portion of a season.
Straily is a fantastic fall back option.
If the A's starting rotation consists of Jarrod Parker, Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir, Tommy Milone and AJ Griffin, that leaves out Dan Straily.
But don't discount the guy.
Straily is no slouch. He too earned double-digit wins. And through 27 games, he kept a sub-4.00 ERA. Impressively, he had a higher strikeout rate than everyone but Griffin (tied with Milone). But control is an issue.
He walked the second-most batters of starting pitchers with more than 100 innings pitched. He also hit seven batters—most on the team.
He just turned 25, so there is some flexibility. If he pitches out of the bullpen or in Sacramento, it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world. Besides, should anyone get hurt, suspended, falter or need an extra day of rest, there aren't many better options in the league to fill in than Dan Straily.
Parker at the top makes sense. You're splitting hairs between Gray and Kazmir at two and three or flipped. Griffin and Straily could round out the rotation with Milone missing out again. Or Milone can rebound and shift everyone down (Griffin to five, Straily out). Another option could see Kazmir imploding.
And that would settle that.
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