Trade Deadline: The Athletics need starting pitching

50 Shades of McCarthy - Joy R. Absalon-US PRESSWIRE

Oakland's rotation depth has already been tested this year, and the farm doesn't appear ready to yield any more replacements.

This recurring nightmare of mine is a kaleidoscope of limbs, appendages swirling in living color. Torn labrums, strained flexor-tendons, snapped ligaments, impinged shoulders. It's a house of horrors, and when I awake -- in something other than a cold sweat -- I'm reminded of my team's fatal flaw. We need more pitching.

Fatal flaw is an exaggeration, but a few weeks ago, when ESPN's Dave Schoenfield called the A's the only team "without an obvious weakness," I didn't know whether to scream "JINX!" at the top of my lungs or chisel a statue of Billy Beane's toes for the sole purpose of kissing. Can it be? Oakland, the only bulletproof team in baseball? As Billy Ripken put it during the nationally telecast Orioles game June 7, "After Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin went down, I didn't think they had enough pitching. But apparently they do." Is Ripken's casual relief medication enough for my rising blood pressure? The answer is "No." It most definitely is not.

How many pitchers does a team need to survive a season?

Thankfully, Jeff Zimmerman (via Eno Sarris) over at Fangraphs answered my question this spring, laying out some helpful statistics mined of seasons past:

1. 40 % of pitchers spend time on the DL in a given season

2. Since 2011, the average team has seen ten different pitchers start a game for them over the course of a single season.

3. The most unfortunate teams, the Rockies and Blue Jays, have needed 12-13 different starters in a given season.

The A's have already experienced their share of misfortune, losing the aforementioned A.J. Griffin and Jarrod Parker to season ending TJS -- and Drew Pomeranz to a clubhouse chair. But if you jettison the A.J. and Parker injuries as preseason cargo, the A's have used seven starting pitchers: Gray, Kazmir, Straily, Milone, Chavez, Pomeranz, and Brad "One-Dollar" Mills. This means if we're lucky, we'll probably need one or two SPTBNL's (Starting Pitcher to be named later). If we're unlucky, we could need as many as three or four more warm bodies.

If A's starters average six innings per outing for the rest of the season, ZiPS estimates the A's will need approximately 150⅔ innings from starting pitchers not named Gray, Kazmir, Chavez, Milone, or Pomeranz. That's approximately 25 games between now and the end of the season.

How durable is the current staff?

Player

Innings (career-high)

IP (ZIPS)

Current IP

Proj. remain

Scott Kazmir

158 (2013), 206.1 (2007)

151

98

53

Sonny Gray

217.1 (2013)

199

99

100

Jesse Chavez

129.2 (2012) btw AAA-MAJ

148

93

55

Tommy Milone

190 (2012)

165

83 1/3

81 2/3

*Drew Pomeranz

146.1 (2012), 112.2 (2013)

125

55 2/3

69 1/3

Projected innings left from starters:

359

Projected Innings needed from ether:

150 2/3

(85 games left) x (6 IP/ Start) - (Projected innings left)
Note: Stats current as of Tuesday, June 24th 

Examining pitcher durability is admittedly a nebulous science, but the inputs usually include size, mechanics, history, and ... dumb luck.

Stat folks examine durability through historical data. The idea is this: if a pitcher has never thrown more than a certain amount of innings, he can't be expected do so in the future -- although you could argue prospects are different, in The Age of Innings Caps. Projection systems like ZiPS (above) use aging curves and injury probability data to guesstimate the median innings a pitcher is likely to throw.

For scouts, the main shake in favor of a pitcher's durability is "size." You hear phrases like "he's built like a workhorse," or "he's got the frame." True or not, it's a maxim of the baseball universe that short, skinny pitchers are less likely to hold up over a full slate of innings, and, for that reason, they're often seen as bullpen candidates.

The other "tell" is mechanics. Uncomfortable looking arm action is yet another good way to earn yourself a "FOR BULLPEN USE ONLY" stamp.

As far as A's pitchers go, Sonny Gray doesn't fit the mold of a durable starter. In fact, you could say quite the opposite, that he has almost every red-flag there is. He's short, slight, throws hard, throws lots of curveballs, has average mechanics ... even still, he's the only A's starter with a 200-inning season under his belt in the last five years. Scott Kazmir has a long and varied injury history, mostly shoulder and back; Chavez has been a reliever for most of his career, never eclipsing the 150-inning-mark; and Pomeranz spent 45 days on the shelf last season with shoulder inflammation.

The other concern, of course, is regression. Spontaneous combustion is always a possibility.

*** Let's also keep our pitchers away from sharp objects (Andrew Cashner, Matt Cain), dogs (Derek Holland), and their own wives (Jonathan Lucroy).

What do we do?

Our in-house options are unappetizing; the Triple-A rotation is a cornucopia of suck. Sixth starter Dan Straily has an ERA over 4.00 and the peripherals don't augur well for big-league success. He's walking almost four batters per nine and giving up homers in bunches.

In fact, every member of Triple-A Sacramento has an ERA and FIP over 4.00, save for Arnold Leon, just barely (3.91 FIP).

Name

IP

HR/9

BB/9

K/9

ERA

FIP

SIERA

Matt Buschmann

54

1.17

3.17

8.5

4.83

4.16

3.74

Arnold Leon

79

0.8

2.96

6.61

4.78

3.91

4.28

Josh Lindblom

75.2

1.07

3.09

6.9

6.19

4.36

4.38

Dan Straily

51.1

1.05

3.86

9.12

4.38

4.1

3.58

Marcus Walden

59.2

0.91

4.07

5.13

5.58

4.88

4.86

Total

319.2

0.99

3.38

7.12

5.21

4.27

4.27

The trade market is likely our best option. We know the big names on the table: David Price and Jeff Samardzija. We also know the A's won't acquire either of them; aside from Addison Russell, the farm isn't flush with high-end talent, especially in comparison to organizations like the Blue Jays who are also "in" on starting pitching.

Who else is out there?

There are a number of lower-tier options available, however, and it seems likely the A's will target someone like Cubs right hander Jason Hammel, or, you guessed it, Brandon McCarthy. Hammel is on a one-year, $6 million deal, and has shown tremendous promise as recently as 2012 when he was worth 2.6 wins in just 118 innings. He's regained form in 2014, posting a sub-3.00 with solid peripherals (see below). McCarthy is in the second year of a two-year, $15.5 million deal, and although his surface stats look like garbage, they pass the smell test. He owns an impressive 2.98 xFIP, which normalizes his HR/FB % in the form of an expected ERA. They're both projected to be worth just under a win for the rest of the season, but Hammel will have a much higher price tag.

Player Team W L GS IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% GB% HR/FB ERA FIP xFIP WAR
Jason Hammel Cubs 6 5 15 96.1 8.5 1.87 0.75 0.272 77.30% 40.10% 8.20% 2.99 3.06 3.29 2
ZiPS (ROS) 4 5 13 81 7.52 2.78 0.88 0.303 72.40% 3.72 3.75 0.9
Brandon McCarthy D'backs 1 10 16 97 7.42 1.67 1.39 0.339 64.70% 55.90% 21.70% 5.38 4.07 2.98 0.8
ZiPS (ROS) 4 5 13 78 6.31 1.59 1.07 0.314 68.30% 4.26 3.86 0.8

The cellar-dwelling D'Backs have another former Athletic in Trevor Cahill who could be had for a ham sandwich. Cahill was demoted to the bullpen earlier this season, but has since been optioned to the minors to find his starting pitching feng-shui. He's still locked into the five-year, $30 million deal we signed him to in 2011. He's owed $12 million in 2014, a salary the A's may or may not be willing to stomach. But then, I was surprised by the Jim Johnson acquisition this offseason, so you never know.

According to Fangraphs' projected standings, the A's are expected to win the West without any addition(s). The cushion, however, is not as soft as you'd hope. The Angels are expected to flirt with 90 wins -- we're forecast for 92 -- and should they acquire an impact player and a few of our players turn into cucumbers, we could be overtaken. Yes, we have the best run differential in the league; in fact, it's an historic one. But in the words of John Updike, "Yesterday is dead."

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