Honestly, at some point an ERA is absurd enough that it doesn't matter whether you look at the ERA, the more predictive metrics, or the process, because they will all look the same: bad. Ryan Cook has a 16.88 ERA this spring and guess what? He isn't the victim of bloops to left field, balls lost in the desert sun, one bad outing, an umpire's narrow strike zone, or bad defense behind him. He just isn't pitching well. At all.
But does it matter? Every March, fans fret and propose roster moves based on some player's terrible statistics only to watch the player make the team and enjoy a good season. So at what point is a player's performance in spring training actually worrisome to the team, to the wise and patient fan?
You start with the basics: If it's a pitcher, as with Ryan Cook, is his velocity ok? Does his arm feel right? Can he throw a strike? I suppose Cook checks out on all three counts there. I haven't heard any concerns about his stuff, he says he feels great, and he has only walked one batter in 5⅓ IP.
The problem is that in those 5⅓ IP, Cook has given up 16 hits and 13 runs (10 ER) and has pretty much repeated the same outing every time: give up lots of hits, give up lots of runs, get very few outs. And the sample size is tiny. And it's spring training.
So is, or should, Cook's roster spot be in any jeopardy? One way to answer the question is not to look at Cook in a vacuum (even if you think he sucks). Baseball is graded on a curve, and the question is: If Cook doesn't make the roster, who does?
If the A's really feel Cook has lost it -- and in fairness if anyone on the A's is a candidate to go all Dontrelle Willis, it's probably Cook -- or needs time at AAA to regain his form, the A's will have a long reliever (likely Jesse Chavez or Drew Pomeranz), Tyler Clippard, Dan Otero, Fernando Abad, and Eric O'Flaherty, and two bullpen spots open.
You could make a strong case for Evan Scribner getting one of the spots based solely on his being out of options or you could make a strong case against him because he really isn't very good. He has been a two-pitch pitcher with an average and straight fastball and if the A's lose him they can almost assuredly replace him in the organization with someone just as capable.
My sense is that the A's feel Alvarez would benefit from a little more AAA seasoning to refine his control. The A's probably aren't overly concerned about starting his service time clock, but they might be overcome with the irony of replacing their hard-throwing but erratic and wild RH reliever with R.J. Alvarez.
Pat Venditte and Fernando Rodriguez
I lump Venditte and Rodriguez together because they share an important quality: they are not on the 40-man roster. Not necessarily a deal-breaker, in that the A's have a couple occupants they might not mind evicting from the 40-man, but Oakland generally does not like to lose players if they don't have to. It seems unlikely that either Venditte or Rodriguez has blown the A's away so much that Oakland will take someone off the 40-man roster just to have them, and not one of the above options, at the back of the bullpen. But who knows?
I should note that there are other possibilities too, from Eury De La Rosa to Chris Bassitt, but they seem solidly ticketed for AAA from everything we have seen and heard.
Maybe Scribner and Alvarez get those last two spots. Perhaps Venditte or Rodriguez leapfrog onto the 40-man and onto the 25-man. But in the end it just seems far more likely that one of those spots goes to the guy who has had success over 3 big league seasons and has stunk it up for all of 5 meaningless innings this month: Ryan Cook.