The A's have an unusual luxury right now, carrying six capable starters while most teams are scuffling to find five that are passable. This has left Chad Gaudin available in the bullpen as part of a seven-man group that has lost Santiago Casilla and Joey Devine for appreciable stretches, and along the way I've become increasingly disappointed in how the A's have - and haven't - utilized Gaudin, a pitcher who could be viewed either as "another good starter available in the bullpen" or as "the long man".
Gaudin has been used as "the long man," which means he sits there every game just in case the starter gets hit by a line drive in the first inning, shelled in the second inning, or struck by lightning in the third inning, and then he watches Foulke, Embree, Brown, Ziggy and others pitch until they are so spent, so ineffective, or so already used, that he gets into the game.
Personally, I would rather see Gaudin used as the second half of a short but effective start when a pitcher like Smith (Thursday at Arizona) or Eveland (Saturday vs. Florida) puts the team in position to win but needs the bullpen to get 10-12 more outs.
It seems to me that in these situations, the A's squeeze innings, parts of innings, and "barely available today" innings out of several middle relievers, instead of having Gaudin take over and go 3-4 innings. I have concluded that the A's are doing this for one of two reasons:
1. Maybe the A's believe that guys like Foulke, Brown, and Embree, even when overworked, are better 7th/8th inning pitchers than Gaudin, to which I say I respectfully disagree and I'm right. Gaudin is good enough to be in the A's rotation, which is among the finest rotations in the American League.
Replacing Eveland with Gaudin is tantamount to replacing Eveland with himself - only he gets to start the first inning again with a pitch count of zero, against a lineup designed to face a lefty. It's a wonderful luxury to be able to go to one guy, who is good enough to slot into the middle of your excellent rotation, rather than hoping that three different relievers are all on their game even though they have had to work an awful lot lately...
2. Maybe the A's are afraid that if they let Gaudin pitch 3-4 innings in a game, and the one guy who can pitch several innings out of the bullpen is not available, they may be screwed the next day and may have to piece together 5-6 innings with guys like Embree, Foulke, Brown, Ziggy...
Do you see the problem with this logic? Besides the fact that A's starters this year have almost NEVER failed to go 5+ innings, this argument boils down to, "We're going to keep piecing our bullpen together with innings from the same overworked guys, so that we can avoid a potential scenario where we would have to, for a day, piece our bullpen together with innings from the same overworked guys."
The fact is, if you got unlucky, and the day after you let Gaudin go for a few innings your starter was struck by a first inning line drive of lightning causing him to get shelled, you could piece together your long relief for a day (from relievers who had yesterday off thanks to Gaudin), and still be ok - and then if it happened again the next day you could always send someone, like Ziggy, down for 10 days and bring up Braden or DiNardo to serve as a second long-man for a week.
And that's just in an emergency scenario where your starters, who have barely failed you at all, suddenly failed you three games in a row - these are the same scenarios that keep third-string catchers on rosters for no good reason. They are hypothetical problems, not realities.
The reality is that some of the games in which Foulke, Embree, and others are being overworked and overexposed are games in which Gaudin could be, and should be, pitching all their innings combined. The A's have a wonderful ace in the hole for those 11-out saves; they don't need to be drawing so many cards.