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Staturday: Pitching

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So there I was, wasting tax payer dollars watching a cold, dead prescribed fire because some land owners with more money and political connections than sense were a feared that a moonscape could suddenly become a raging inferno of fiery doom. (South Lake Tahoe has undeniable wildland fire/urban interface concerns but too often politics get in the way of practical fire management. I’ve had two assignments to the area and have been well compensated both times and I can honestly say that approximately 2/3 of my time was spent showing the flag instead of being assigned to an actual work project.) Anyways, back to the matter at hand. I was cold and bored and looking to kill some time so I sat down and wrote out what the 2009 25 man roster might/could look like.

                                                

C1

Suzuki

 

SP

Duchscherer

1B

Barton

 

SP

Gallagher

2B

Ellis

 

SP

Eveland

3B

Chavez

 

SP

Braden

SS

Crosby

 

SP

Gonzalez

LF

Holliday

 

CL

Devine

CF

Sweeney

 

RP

Ziegler

RF

Cust

 

RP

Blevins

DH

Giambi

 

RP

Casilla

C2

Bowen

 

RP

Brown

BN

INF

 

RP

Schroder

BN

INF

 

RP

Springer

BN

OF

 

 

 

I need to figure out how to compress Excel spreadsheets one of these days. Anyways...

 

A couple things jumped out at me. The A’s, who have (as I recall) favored a 12 man bullpen during Beane’s tenure and are looking at maybe their weakest Opening Day rotation in almost a decade, are struggling to find a dozen arms to put on the big league roster. How weak is the A’s rotation looking? Over the past 5 years A’s pitchers have thrown between 1448 and 1471.3 innings; CHONE projects the top 6 candidates for the A’s 2009 rotation at 135 GS and 679 IP. Duke, Gallagher and Eveland are the closest thing to locks for the rotation but all of them rode the pine a while in 2008 for various reasons. Braden might fit best as a swing man/long reliever but right now he’s more deserving of a rotation spot than Gio and Outman. Maybe the two young lefties impress in ST, but when 2008 ended it looked like they both might need some more time in AAA. Assuming that Braden out-performs one or both in ST the loser of the fight for the 5th SP role should get sent down to Sacramento to get regular work in the River Cats’ rotation. That seems to leave a huge, gaping hole in the big league bullpen at long relief.

 

Let’s take a closer look at the bullpen. Devine, Ziggy, Blevins and Casilla offer a lot more potential than they do proven production. Russ Springer should help, but keep in mind that he’s 40 years old and has averaged less than 1 IP per appearance in each of the last 4 years. Brown has good stuff but he had injury issues last year and inconsistent command is the most consistent part of his career. Really the only guy on here with the resume to serve as a long reliever is Ziggy and that would represent a major step down from what he provided last year and what the A’s are probably counting on in 2009. Like I said above, it would be foolish for the A’s to stick the loser of an Outman/Gio showdown into the long role because of the irregular work that goes with the job. The A’s want/plan on both young southpaws to fight for a rotation job in the near future, they’d be sabotaging their long term plans by sticking one or the other in the back of the Oakland bullpen and not giving them regular work.

 

Am I making too much of the apparent lack of a quality long arm in the bullpen? Consider this: Over the past 5 years Oakland pitchers have averaged approximately 1451 IP per season. Of the three main projection systems (Bill James/CHONE/Marcel) CHONE proves to be the most generous towards the A’s in terms of estimating 2009 IP. As I said earlier, CHONE projects the Top 6 SP candidates in Oakland’s system to produce 679 IP. It also predicts the Top 7 relief pitchers (and I’m including Russ Springer and Chris Schroder) to produce 411 IP. Set aside for a moment how you may feel about projecting the quality of future performances and focus on the innings pitched. CHONE is projecting the Top 13 pitchers in the A’s system to produce 1090 IP. That represents 75% of the 1451 IP we expect to see the A’s pitch in 2009.

 

In comparison, CHONE is projecting the Top 6 SP in the 2009 Angels’ system to throw 970 IP; with the Top 7 relief pitchers to produce another 409 IP. That equals 1379 IP, or 95% of the 1451 IP threshold.

 

So yeah, I feel like my concerns are justified. Every team is going to have between 75 and 150 innings of below-replacement level pitching coming from arms that don’t belong in the major leagues. They get called up because the bullpen is worn out or someone gets hurts and they’re the best available option at the time, not because anyone in their organization mistakes them for being good. Set the junk innings aside and the 2009 A’s still have a sizeable gap (211 – 286 IP) between what their best pitchers are projected to provide and what the law of averages says the team will be expected to produce. For all the talk about how the A’s have improved their offense, that’s a lot of innings were we have no idea who’ll be pitching. Some of those innings will be covered by starting pitchers exceeding their projections (CHONE has Duke at 91 IP next year even though he threw 141 IP in 2008) but Braden, Eveland, Gallagher, Gonzalez and Outman haven’t proven that they’re quality big league pitchers. Do I think that some of them will step up and prove their worth? Absolutely. But I also expect some of them to struggle badly. Having a quality long reliever ready to deliver 3-4 IP whenever one of the young SP gets knocked out early could seriously improve the chances of the offense coming back and stealing a win for the A’s. If nothing else having a guy who can go out and eat innings will save the rest of the bullpen for the next game. That guy doesn’t appear to be on the roster at this time.

 

If you’ve been reading the minor league reports that Taj Adib and myself posted over the 2008 season then you’re aware that the A’s minor league system is flush with arms. That bodes well for Oakland in the long term, but short of someone pitching absolutely lights out in Spring Training none of the A’s young arms (like Anderson, Cahill, Mazzaro, Simmons, Carignan, Demel, Bailey) are expected to be ready to help the big league team before the ’09 All-Star break. In the short term, what you see in the above roster break-down is the best available pitching for the A’s. The immediate reserve will be comprised of the loser of the Outman/Gonzalez run-off, Jeff Gray and non-40 man roster pitchers Jerome Williams and Brad Kilby. The A’s are currently carrying 15 pitchers on the 40 man roster and they still need to make room for Springer, hopefully a position player gets DFA’d because there aren’t a lot of attractive options to cut on the pitching side of things. The 2 pitchers that we haven’t discussed but are on the 40 man roster are Ryan Webb and Henry Rodriguez, neither of whom looks anywhere close to being ready for the Show.

 

I mentioned a couple things jumping out at me when I looked at the 25 man roster but I seem to have gone on longer than I originally intended. Look for part II in the near future.