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Where are the A's? Handing Out First Quarter Grades: The Pitchers

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The A's starting pitching has been inconsistent as expected. But the bullpen has been as advertised. It's a large part of the reason the A's even have 17 wins at this point. Who knows where the A's would be without the A-grade pen?

Let's take a look at the pitching, starters and relievers, and assign first quarter grades to the Athletics crew.

Starting Pitching (Etherton not included)

Barry Zito: Barry Zito is the lone remaining leftover from the Big Three (I still think the market wasn't good enough for him). He is 26 years old, and yet he's considered the veteran. In some ways, Zito is showing flashes of getting back to his 2002 self. His BAA in May is .236 after being .269 in April. But one of his big problems remains the base-on-balls. He's got 23 walks overs 62 2/3rds innings. That's way too many. And I don't care if you're Sandy Koufax, that will come back to haunt you. Zito's ERA has slowly but surely been climbing down as well. He's got a 3.86 ERA in May compared to a 6.25 ERA in April. In part, it's because Zito has added a new pitch, so he's now a five-pitch pitcher as opposed to the three-pitch pitcher that started 2004. Still, Barry is supposed to be the ace on the staff and he hasn't done the job just yet, even though he has been coming around of late. Something to note about Z is that over his career, his numbers of pitches per innings pitched has risen every season except one. This year he is averaging 17.4 pitches per innings pitched.

Career Average: 3.52 ERA, 2.06 K/BB

Current Stats: 5.17 ERA, 1.65 K/BB

Grade: D

Rich Harden: This will forever be the season known as the one in which Harden became King Richard. His stats look great after a quarter of the season. Unfortunately, he's injured now which opens up a chasm in the A's starting rotation. There is no question, at least statistically, who is the hardest pitcher to hit on the Athletics. His BAA is .235 and he strikes out batters like a man possessed. Almost one strikeout per inning (42 Ks in 45 IP). Harden has the potential to win a Cy Young if the offense ever scored runs for the kid. He has had a bit of a rough go of it in May, with a 3.72 ERA and an 0-3 record. Of course a 3.72 ERA seems very good, but with the offense he has supporting him and his natural abilities, a 3.72 ERA isn't good. Interestingly, Harden pitches per inning and pitches per plate appearance have dropped each year he's been in the majors. The kid is only scratching the surface of how good he can be.

Career Averages: 3.93 ERA, 2.03 K/BB

Current Stats: 2.80 ERA, 2.80 K/BB

Grade: B+

Danny Haren:: Haren has had a Jekyll and Hyde season. But that's to be expected from a kid making his first full go around in the major leagues. I should just remind people that Mark Mulder's first full season in the majors he finished with a 5.44 ERA and nearly as many walks as strikeouts. It's natural because the league gets scouting reports on you, players catch up and then it's up to you to make an adjustment. The good news is that Haren's K/9 IP has gone up every season to a very good 7.51 this year. The key for him, as with every pitcher who throws a good splitter is making sure he is getting ahead of hitters. Again, his record is less than stellar at 1-6, but he's also very young and learning his way around. Something scary about Haren in May is that the opponents BAA is .360. In April, that was .220. Scouting reports have apparently been distributed. It's Haren's responsibility to adjust now.

Career Averages: 4.95 ERA, 1.77 K/BB

Current Stats: 5.19 ERA, 1.56 K/BB

Grade: C-

Joe Blanton: Smokin' Joe Blanton has been puffing out in May. He's nearly a mirror image of Danny Haren's quick start and then plummet back to earth. Blanton sported a 2.67 ERA in April, but has a 10.80 ERA in May. As many SABRheads would point out, his K/9 has dropped to astounding 2.68 which will usually mean that he is not fooling anyone. Therefore, his strikeout to walk ratio is dreadful. In May, opponents are hitting .321 off of Smokin' Joe. Blanton is more concerning than Haren at this point because he isn't striking anyone out. That usually foreshadows the struggles in May.

Career Averages: 5.23 ERA, 0.91 K/BB

Current Stats: 5.15 ERA, 0.68 K/BB

Grade: C-

Kirk Saarloos: Saarloos has provided what the A's need from a fifth starter. He's been relatively consistent. Even though his outings haven't been long, he's given the A's decent outings despite his high K/BB rate. The interesting thing to note here is that Saarloos is really good at the Coliseum and really bad on the road. He's the opposite of Mark Redman from last season. He's got a 2.04 ERA at home and a 6.48 ERA on the road. He also has a dreadful 2.74 K/9. Although that isn't necessarily as big a concern as it is with Blanton because Saarloos is a sinker pitcher.

Career Averages: 5.27 ERA, 1.62 K/BB

Current Stats: 4.64 ERA, 0.72 K/BB

Grade: C+

Bullpen (Harikkala not included)

Justin Duchscherer:The Duke has been magnificent this year. And it isn't just his 1.33 ERA. He's also striking people out with a 7.97 K/9 and has 18 strikeouts to just three walks. He's become one of the most valuable members of a deeper pen, and at some point, the A's might want to consider moving him back into a starting role. Despite the fact that he doesn't have overpowering stuff, he manages to get the job done with a great cut fastball and nasty curveball. The Duke couldn't have been better so far this season.

Career Averages: 3.90 ERA, 2.45 K/BB

Current Stats: 1.33 ERA, 6.00 K/BB

Grade: A

Ricardo Rincon: Despite my own personal feelings about Rincon, he hasn't been bad this year. He's been doing his job despite the 4.38 ERA, he has a .222 BAA. He also only has one blown save and five holds. The thing that has always frustrated me about Rincon is that he sometimes can't seem to get a strike. He has five strikesouts, but he's also given up five walks. That's a lot for 12.1 IP. His K/9 is also very low this year so far with a 3.65 K/9. Just last season, his K/9 was 8.18. This is concerning.

Career Averages: 3.48 ERA, 2.04 K/BB

Current Stats: 4.38 ERA, 1.00 K/BB

Grade: B-

Keiichi Yabu: Yabu was the A's under-the-radar signing this past offseason. He came in and had a horrid spring training. But the Japanese pitcher has more wins than any pitcher on the A's staff including the starters. That probably says more about the A's offense than the A's starting pitching, but Yabu has been solid thus far. He's pitched in increasingly high leverage situations, showing Macha's improving faith. He has an impressive K/9 at 7.89. His walks and hits per innings pitched are high at 1.62, but he's kept his ERA down at 3.32. Yabu has a nearly unhittable splitter and it's absolutely crucial to see him throw it. I also wouldn't be shocked to see Yabu moved into the starting rotation at some point as well.

Career Averages: 3.32 ERA,1.90 K/BB

Current Stats: 3.32 ERA, 1.90 K/BB

Grade: B+

Huston Street: Street, along with Justin Duchscherer, are the stars of this year's bullpen. Street's statistics are absolutely mindblowing, when you consider the he is a rookie. .181 BAA, 1.88 ERA, 10.50 K/9 and 28 Ks. He's been everything the A's have asked for and more. And despite the fact that he's only 21 years old, he is already the A's closer (at least while Octavio Dotel is injured). Granted he hasn't closed a game yet, but there is no question in my mind that once Dotel is healthy and proves he is again, that he will eventually be traded, especially if Calero comes back healthy. And we have Street to thank for this.

Career Averages: 1.88 ERA, 2.15 K/BB

Current Stats: 1.88 ERA, 2.15 K/BB

Grade: A

Kiko Calero: Calero was the most valuable member of the A's pen until his elbow started to break down. In April, he went through the month scoreless, allowing opponents to a .188 BAA with 11 strikeouts and two walks. In May, he has an 81.00 ERA with one strikeout and two walks. If there was ever compelling evidence that there was a problem with one of our prized acquisitions from the Mulder deal, that's it. Calero needs to get healthy for the A's pen to be as dominant as it can be. Calero is one of the players that deserves a look beyond his raw numbers because of the elbow problem.

Career Averages: 3.39 ERA, 3.24 K/BB

Current Stats: 8.68 ERA, 3.00 K/BB

Grade: C+

Juan Cruz: Cruz seemed like a bust early on. He was walking people regularly and then getting hammered for long bombs. He's made moderate improvements lately. He hasn't had the first quarter people expected from him. Left-handed hitters also have an insane 1.104 OPS off of Cruz. It's not tough to look at his stats and know what's wrong. He's allowed 16 BB already even though he's struck out 20. His K/BB is way down this season and it's showing up in his ERA. And he doesn't have an injury to justify the drop like Calero does.

Career Averages: 4.22 ERA, 1.83 K/BB

Current Stats: 7.94 ERA, 1.25 K/BB

Grade: D

Octavio Dotel:The mystery wrapped in a riddle wrapped in an enigma. Dotel has also had elbow problems this year (anyone wishing for Rick Peterson right now?). And its effected his willingness to go to the slider, which is one of his best pitches. So any grade he is given must be measured with that in mind. Both his K/9 and his K/BB rates are way down so far this year from what they have been in the past. He, like Calero, needs that slider in order to be the pitcher the A's acquired. So if he isn't healthy, he becomes a batting practice pitcher, as evidenced in the Boston series. The funny thing is that he's holding opponents to a measly .185 BAA. The problem is that he already has four blown saves compared to seven saves. Not a good conversion rate. But his grade does factor in the injury problem. If he didn't have the injury, he would likely get a D or an F.

Career Averages: 3.63 ERA, 2.80 K/BB

Current Stats: 3.52 ERA, 1.46 K/BB

Grade: C+

When the season started, people knew that the pen would be the strength of this pitching staff. Thankfully, it has been while our young pitchers go through their growing pains. Barry Zito has been a letdown thus far and Rich Harden could carry this team on his shoulders if he was healthy. But that's part of the problem. Many of our pitchers haven't been healthy. It makes one wonder if the team is doing anything differently than in years prior.

Regardless, the pitching has been a bigger strength than the offense and if the bullpen gets Calero back healthy, Jairo Garcia comes up and proves he has control and Street continues his mastery, this bullpen could evolve into the best in the ML. As for the starters, it could take more time for that to happen.

What are the grades you would give out? Where do we agree? Disagree?