So if you're trying to figure out about how good the A's rotation will be in a couple years, when the young starting pitchers have established a "true ability" level, one way to analyze it is to compare each starting pitcher to the established pitcher they best match.
Now we don't, of course, know exactly who will be in the rotation, nor do we know precisely what the best comp will actually be -- hence the fun part. Here are my thoughts...
Note: I've left Josh Outman out because until he recovers from TJ surgery his timeline and profile are too unknown. Same with Fautino De Los Santos. But both could definitely be factors in 2011.
Anderson features a 93MPH fastball, a "swing-and-miss" breaking pitch, commands both sides of the plate well, and works hitters like a veteran. Best Available Comp: Jon Lester.
This is the hardest one for me, because at this point Cahill doesn't show the sinker-command to earn a comparison to Brandon Webb or Derek Lowe, yet the drop-off from those guys to most sinkerballers is too steep, i.e., Cahill, as well as he's progressing at age 21, looks to be a lot better than the Sergio Mitres of the world. And guys like Chien-Ming Wang and Carlos Silva walk less than a batter every 4 innings, hardly the best comp for Cahill's strengths and weaknesses. I still think Cahill has a chance to elevate his game, eventually, to Lowe's level, but at the moment I'm going to say that with a good sinker, slider, changeup combo marred by erratic control and consistency...Best Available Comp: Jason Marquis, for a while until it all comes together, then eventually Derek Lowe.
What stands out about Braden, of course, is the plus-changeup and fastball command, and while James Shields is a good comp in a lot of ways, he just isn't left-handed enough for these purposes. So while it's a bit of a reach -- and as generous a comp as Marquis is stingy for Cahill -- I'll go with...Best Available Comp: Ted Lilly. And if the A's deal Braden for a platoon outfielder, I'm quitting baseball for good.
To me, Mazzaro will stall unless he develops some weapons under 85MPH. His changeup is only okay and he doesn't pull the string on the breaking pitch. He is pretty much dependent on a sinker/slider combo bolstered by good fastball velocity that forces batters to start their swing early. Best Available Comp: Jeremy Bonderman.
The big signature curve and the erratic control scream "Zito" but the 93MPH fastball and rarely-seen changeup do not. So I search for a LHP with a 93MPH fastball and sharp breaking stuff, who walks too many and can thus be dominant or awful. Dontrelle Willis? Sean Marshall? Rich Hill? Not established enough to be a comp. So start learning about the Colorado school system, Gio...Best Available Comp: Mike Hampton.
I include Simmons because he's likely to be a "back of the rotation" factor by 2011. Here's a tall, skinny, command guy without the great stuff but with the ability to thrive when he's hitting the corners and working all parts of the plate. Best Available Comp: Andy Sonnanstine.
So if the comps are right (and they aren't), and every young A's pitcher stays healthy (pause for laughter), here's a sense of what the 2011 rotation could look like in terms of how good it is:
Bonderman or Sonnanstine
You could do worse, but it also shows that...You can never have too much starting pitching. And that #3 starters can be really important: Turn Marquis into Lowe and suddenly that rotation looks great.