After the 2012 season, Tyson Ross had a 5.33 ERA in 53 career games. He didn't strike out enough batters, he walked too many, and he allowed a ton of hits. He'd had some injury problems, and there were questions about his unorthodox delivery. He was struggling as a starter, and he was struggling as a reliever. He was only 25 and clearly talented, but the A's finally decided to let someone else take a crack at polishing this particular youngster. He was sent to the Padres in a low-level deal that brought Andy Parrino to Oakland.
In the three years since, Ross has posted a 114 ERA+ in 99 games for the Padres (80 starts) while striking out a batter per inning. He's been above-average each year, and depending on which WAR scale you prefer he's either averaged over 2 (bWAR) or over 3 (fWAR) per season. He even made an All-Star team. He had finally arrived, one year too late to help Oakland. Oh well, ya can't win 'em all.
After the 2015 season, Drew Pomeranz had a 4.09 ERA in 107 career games, a mark that rose to 4.60 in his 49 starts. He can strike out batters, but his arsenal of pitches is limited and his control regularly abandons him. He tends to be too inefficient with his pitch count to last deep into games -- in those 49 career starts, he's finished the 6th inning only seven times. He may have finally settled in as a short reliever, though, posting a 2.61 ERA last year in 44 appearances out of the pen while striking out 10 batters per nine innings. And on Wednesday, less than two weeks after his 27th birthday and five weeks after undergoing shoulder surgery, he was sent to the Padres in the deal for Yonder Alonso.
What will we be saying about Pomeranz three years from now? Will he build on his 2015 campaign and become a lockdown set-up man? Will San Diego figure out how to turn him into a successful starter like they did with Ross? Or will he just continue being a solid but inconsistent pitcher, like he was for the A's?
Here's another question for you: Is Ross a product of Petco Park? Here are his home/road ERA splits:
2013: 2.03 home, 4.02 road
2014: 1.88 home, 3.79 road
2015: 3.70 home, 2.83 road
Those first two years started to suggest the answer was yes, but then 2015 skewed things. In fact, Petco stopped ranking as an extreme pitcher's park at all, for one season at least, and on top of that Ross led MLB in walks. But he still had a fantastic year, and so now we have to actually take note of the things he has improved on:
- He basically doubled his rate of swinging strikes when he got to San Diego, and facing opposing pitchers a couple times per game in the NL only accounts for a small amount of that change.
- He upped his ground ball rate, and his 61.5% rate last year was third in MLB behind only Brett Anderson and Dallas Keuchel.
- He started mixing in a cutter in 2015, and more or less scrapped his changeup.
It's true that Ross has enjoyed lower hit rates at home each year he's been a Padre, but clearly there is more to his resurgence than just a big park in a weaker-hitting league. His control is still shaky enough to pile up some walks, but he spends the rest of the time getting strikeouts and groundballs and that seems to be enough to make up for it regardless of where you're playing your games. Perhaps Petco gave him a slight boost at first, but he seems to have become a legit pitcher in his own right.
Ross still hasn't thrown 200 innings in a season, but there's no reason he can't reach that mark in 2016, even if the Padres trade him away and he calls a new park home.
Trading away a guy like Pomeranz is always nerve-wracking. For all the reasons you hoped that he would flourish with your own team, you can now see those things clicking after a change of scenery. But if he's going to step up to another level next year, he'll need more than a move to a Petco, especially if last year's more moderate park factors are sustainable results of the various changes that have been made to the park's walls and dimensions in recent years. Pom already keeps the hits and homers low, and his path to improvement will require him to harness his control and possibly add a new pitch to make him less predictable. So, the same things we all hoped to see from him over the last two years.
The main difference between this trade and the Ross deal involves the return. Oakland essentially moved on from Ross, receiving only spare parts in exchange, and so when he later panned out it felt like he'd been given away for nothing. Pom was held in higher standing, and A's got back a guy who they think can be their regular first baseman as well as a new (albeit less valuable) lefty reliever to fill the hole in the 2016 bullpen. Even if Pom does improve, and/or if relief prospect Jose Torres pans out, the A's got something as well and can reasonably hope to benefit from the deal.
Like with the Jed Lowrie acquisition, if you have the chance to acquire an everyday position player for a non-closer reliever, you should take that trade more often than not. Pom and Yonder Alonso are both players who are already solid but have upside for more, so either team could come out looking pretty smart from this trade. Both also spent time on the DL midseason, before returning, getting hurt again and being shut down early, so either team could also come up relatively empty-handed for health reasons.
At the end of the day, trading Pom was indeed a risk, but it was one the A's were justified in taking. Chalk this one up as one of those trades in which both teams made a sensible move to acquire the greener grass from someone else's yard, with the eventual winner yet to be decided by how well that grass continues to grow. And if Pom finally figures things out in San Diego, well, more power to him.