Since the A’s last made the playoffs they’ve had successive win totals of 76, 75, 75 and 81, and thus been stuck in mediocrity. But there is reason for optimism this year, thanks mostly to a young pitching staff that took a huge step forward last year.
Billy Beane has a wonderful eye for pitching talent, unfortunately for A’s fans, his eye for positional talent is just as spectacularly bad. In 2010, the Oakland starters led the league in quality starts, ERA and finished second in Batting Average Against (BAA), but only 24th in strikeouts.
These overall stats reflect the nature of the starting staff; all quality pitchers who need a true strikeout pitch to reach elite fantasy status. The top-three in the rotation (Cahill, Anderson, Gonzalez) will probably fall in the 20-40 draft pick range for fantasy pitchers.
The clear No. 1 after last year’s breakout season is Trevor Cahill (18-8; sub-three era; 21 quality starts). He was dominant for long stretches last year; at one point he had a 20-game streak where he pitched at least five innings and gave up six hits or fewer, tying Nolan Ryan’s modern day record.
In contrast to Nolan Ryan, Cahill’s glaring weakness is his inability to get the swing and miss—in nearly 200 innings last year he only had 118 strikeouts. Obviously, this is a negative for fantasy purposes as you lose strikeout points, but stating the obvious, when the ball is in play bad things can happen to a pitcher’s stats.
Cahill will start the year at only 23 years old, so he has a chance to continue to improve and develop a strikeout pitch and if that happens you are looking at a top-10 pitcher.
Brett Anderson pitched very well when healthy last year (7-6; 2.80 era; 13/19 quality starts). Despite nice strikeout numbers during his rookie year, last year was a bit of a disappointment in that area. Part of that could be blamed on arm troubles, which might’ve affected his swing-and-miss-ability. If he stays healthy and reverts back to his rookie year strikeout ratio, he could finish the season as the No. 1 fantasy pitcher on this team.
Perhaps the most enticing talent on the team is Gio Gonzalez. A formerly erratic pitcher with all the tools, he seemed to figure things out last year. What makes him especially enticing on this roster is his ability to strikeout opponents.
This slight dip in strikeouts from the previous season was worth it as he increased his wins, gave up less walks, less hits and had a lower ERA. The tricky thing, when someone makes such a big leap is that you have to be careful of a slight regression.
Still, he’s a player with No. 2 potential who could be overlooked in a lot of drafts with definite sleeper potential.
It speaks volumes about the A’s staff that Dallas Braden (of the A-Rod spat and perfect game) is the fourth starter. Last year he finished sixth in the American League in WHIP and 13th in ERA.
Throw in his perfect game and he has the ability to completely shut down the opponent, but like the rest of the A’s his lack of strikeouts hurts his value. Plus, you have to reserve a special spot in your heart for a guy that calls out the highest paid player in baseball.