It seems like mostly fans and A's management agree: Drew Pomeranz is a presumptive member of the 2015 starting rotation while Jesse Chavez sits around 6th on the depth chart, possibly bumped out of the Opening Day rotation by new acquisition Kendall Graveman.
Is this the way it should be? At a cursory glance, perhaps it is. Pomeranz turned in a shiny 2.35 ERA in 2014, while Chavez was last seen wearing down, running out of gas, and walking off the field as Tyler Flowers jogged the bases.
Personally, I see a lot of reasons to be bullish about Chavez in 2015 and just as many reasons to be wary about Pomeranz. I may not cover a lot of new ground here, but perhaps the underlying question is new: Why isn't Chavez ahead of Pomeranz on any virtual, or actual, depth chart?
By advanced metrics, Pomeranz should be nicknamed "red flag" after posting an xFIP of 3.65, a BB rate of 3.39 / 9 IP, a BABIP of .244 and a strand rate of 82.1%. In fact Steamer is so impressed with Pomeranz (#sarcasmfont) that it projects him to have a 4.13 ERA this coming season -- which is probably about right if his BABIP and strand rate regress to league norms and he doesn't exhibit more command. Certainly if he could not replicate shiny numbers from one season to the next, Pomeranz would hardly be the first A's pitcher to suffer this fate. If you don't believe me you can ask Kirk Saarloos or Guillermo Moscoso.
Meanwhile, Chavez put together a truly strong first half, taking a 3.14 ERA into the All-Star break. It wasn't a flukey success, either: In 115 IP, Chavez struck out 107 while walking only 36 and surrendering just 10 HRs. No doubt Chavez stumbled thereafter, as his 5.20 July ERA will attest. However, this is attributable to the fatigue from a career high innings load which is precisely the type of problem that is not chronic -- with a 146 IP season now under his belt one can presume that in 2015 Chavez could throw around 160-175 IP before becoming susceptible to "running out of gas". Steamer seems to concur, projecting Chavez to post a 3.82 ERA on the strength of a 3.80 FIP.
Metrics aside, let's just look at how each pitcher currently profiles as a SP. Pomeranz has both a 2-seam and 4-seam fastball, a knuckle-curve, and not especially good command. That repertoire does not usually portend long-term success as a SP.
In contrast, Chavez features a 92-93 MPH fastball, a big curve, a cutter, and a changeup, as well as solid control. Not only does his repertoire include four pitches, they are a combination that can wreak havoc with a batter's eyeline: The curve has a big 12-to-6 break while the cutter moves laterally one way, the changeup fading the other. It's an arsenal that allows Chavez to offer different looks 3-4 times through the order.
Now I'm not saying that Pomeranz is going to regress -- I hope he doesn't -- or that he won't learn a new pitch or throw more strikes or in some way take the next step forward. Nor am I certain that Chavez can pick up where he left off last April, May, and June.
What I am saying is that as you scrutinize the most predictive stats and examine the weapons each pitcher brings to the mound, shouldn't Chavez be the one with a spot to lose in the rotation and shouldn't Pomeranz be the one with something to prove?
Note: Speaking of Jesse Chavez, he is supposed to be among those interviewed at the "BlogFest" portion of FanFest on Sunday. Alex Hall, Jeremy F. Koo, and I hope to bring you some interesting tidbits from those interviews which, if nothing changes, will also include Ike Davis and David Forst.