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The Oakland A's rotation is designed to fail, and that's fine

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They say failure is not an option, but in Oakland's case, the Athletics have enough quality starters down the depth chart to make an injury crisis withstandable.

The A's can't be sure if Jesse Hahn will be fit for the season until spring training.
The A's can't be sure if Jesse Hahn will be fit for the season until spring training.
Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

With the reported signing of Henderson Alvarez, the Oakland Athletics answer a question that has been bugging me since they signed Rich Hill's deal: How are they going to find 950 innings from their starters when only two members of their projected rotation reached even 150 innings pitched in 2015?

The A's brass can't be sure if Jesse Hahn will be good for the start of the season until spring training, and Kendall Graveman's oblique issues are worrisome.

Though the A's are one of the finalists for Scott Kazmir's services, they don't necessarily need a full-fledged starter to fill up a full season rotation. Even if few individual starters can go 180-plus innings, the A's rotation can be pieced together from a bunch of partial seasons, and is now designed to be fail-safe.

The rotation core

Between Henderson Alvarez and the 10 starting pitchers on the A's 40-man roster already, only three threw at least 150 innings last year at any level: Sonny Gray, Chris Bassitt, and Aaron Brooks. Of those 11, only Gray and Kendall Graveman did so in 2014.

Brooks won't be high on the starting pitching depth chart, but let's begin our rotation by slotting Gray at No. 1 and Bassitt at No. 2:

Estimate for A's 2016 starter innings pitched (min. 100 IP max. 200 IP)
2016 starter IP
(MLB only)
2015 IP
(any level)
2016 starter IP
(any level)
(125% 2015)
1 Sonny Gray 200 208 200
2 Chris Bassitt 194 155 194

Pair off the rest

In a fail-safe mode, I'll pair off the rest of the pitchers such that each spot in the rotation throws between 170-190 innings, and the total starter innings pitched equals 950.

We will assume for our purposes injuries will limit each pitcher's performance to 125 percent of the innings they threw in 2015, but that any starter will throw at least 100 innings but no more than 200 innings:

Estimate for A's 2016 starter innings pitched (min. 100 IP max. 200 IP)
2016 starter IP
(MLB only)
2015 IP
(any level)
2016 starter IP
(any level)
(125% 2015)
1 Sonny Gray 200 208 200
2 Chris Bassitt 194 155 194
3 Kendall Graveman 175 140 175
Sean Nolin 12 76 1/3 100
4 Jesse Hahn 121 96 2/3 121
Sean Manaea 65 115 144
5 Rich Hill 118 94 118
Henderson Alvarez 65 33 2/3 100
Reserve Aaron Brooks 174 200
Jarrod Parker 18 2/3 100
Felix Doubront 123 1/3 154

Understand that this is just a way to visualize how each spot in the rotation gets filled up and would not necessarily be the order in which those spots are filled up.

Felix Doubront, if everyone is healthy out of spring training, will probably be cut unless Sean Nolin shows such a poor performance in spring training that he is waived instead. Doubront conceivably could start in the rotation if there is an additional injury in the rotation. Henderson Alvarez will still be rehabilitating by Opening Day and I believe Sean Manaea is unlikely (though a not impossible) pick for the Opening Day rotation.

I think given Manaea's limited innings in 2015--the 115 he threw includes both his postseason and fall league innings--it's unlikely the A's throw him into the rotation right away when they can hide an innings management plan in Triple-A. Let's think about a few bad news scenarios with heightened probabilities:

Bad scenario No. 1 - Jesse Hahn goes under the knife again

Let's talk about the worst case scenario, where Hahn reports to camp with continued elbow soreness and ends up undergoing a UCL revision, which would take him out for the year. The rotation could start Gray-Bassitt-Doubront-Graveman-Hill, with Sean Nolin in the bullpen and the rest optioned to Triple-A and Alvarez on the disabled list until he's ready to return to the majors.

Estimate for A's 2016 starter innings pitched, Jesse Hahn out
2016 starter IP
(MLB only)
2015 IP
(any level)
2016 starter IP
(any level)
(125% 2015)
1 Sonny Gray 200 208 200
2 Chris Bassitt 194 155 194
3 Kendall Graveman 175 140 175
Sean Nolin 13 76 1/3 100
4 Rich Hill 118 94 118
Sean Manaea 70 115 144
5 Felix Doubront 100 123 1/3 154
Henderson Alvarez 80 33 2/3 100
Reserve Aaron Brooks 174 200
Jarrod Parker 18 2/3 100

Here, Felix Doubront starts in the rotation with Sean Nolin in the bullpen as swingman. Henderson Alvarez or Sean Manaea could jump into the rotation for Doubront in July, with the other jumping in to replace Rich Hill if he can't push beyond 120 innings.

Bad scenario No. 2 - Kendall Graveman's oblique acts up

Another possible situation is that the rotation comes out healthy at the end of spring training, but Kendall Graveman suffers another oblique injury that keeps him out of the MLB rotation for around two months. Since the rotation was fine out of spring training, the A's have already let go of Felix Doubront, so Sean Nolin is asked to pick up the slack:

Estimate for A's 2016 starter innings pitched, Kendall Graveman limited
2016 starter IP
(MLB only)
2015 IP
(any level)
2016 starter IP
(any level)
(125% 2015)
1 Sonny Gray 200 208 200
2 Chris Bassitt 194 155 194
3 Jesse Hahn 121 96 2/3 121
Sean Nolin 57 76 1/3 100
4 Rich Hill 118 94 118
Sean Manaea 80 115 144
5 Kendall Graveman 100 140 100
Henderson Alvarez 80 33 2/3 100
Reserve Aaron Brooks 174 200
Jarrod Parker 18 2/3 100

The A's still avoid diving into hoping Jarrod Parker enjoys a successful recovery from the broken elbow he sustained in his last few starts rehabilitating from his UCL revision or relying on Aaron Brooks to eat innings.

Bad scenario No. 3 - Jesse Hahn out AND Kendall Graveman limited

In the worst case, both scenarios one and two play out:

Estimate for A's 2016 starter innings pitched, Jesse Hahn out and Kendall Graveman limited
2016 starter IP
(MLB only)
2015 IP
(any level)
2016 starter IP
(any level)
(125% 2015)
1 Sonny Gray 200 208 200
2 Chris Bassitt 194 155 194
3 Rich Hill 118 94 118
Sean Nolin 68 76 1/3 100
4 Kendall Graveman 100 140 100
Sean Manaea 90 115 144
5 Felix Doubront 100 123 1/3 154
Henderson Alvarez 80 33 2/3 100
Reserve Aaron Brooks 174 200
Jarrod Parker 18 2/3 100

The main idea here is that Felix Doubront is retained and Sean Nolin picks up some extra starts along the way. Brooks and Parker remain buried as having few expectations.

Conclusion

The tables above assume no more than a 25 percent increase in innings, but Oakland's top starters could exceed those figures, lessening the need for depth pieces to take their places.

What we have right now, before the A's even get to a possible Scott Kazmir signing, is that under some pretty terrible expectations, the A's staff will be fine. Even if Jarrod Parker does not have the endurance to return to his former self in the rotation, even if pitchers that haven't thrown 150 innings in a while don't do so, even if pitchers that have had serious injuries lately have them again, the rotation is fine.

But if they do exceed those expectations, the A's rotation will be in an extremely robust position.