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Oakland A's rotation: Chris Bassitt and left-handed batters

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Bassitt has always been tough on righties, but the A's need him to be ill-tempered toward lefties too.
Bassitt has always been tough on righties, but the A's need him to be ill-tempered toward lefties too.
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Chris Bassitt will make his first start for the Oakland A's on Tuesday, in place of the traded injured ill Sonny Gray. Bassitt made five starts last season for the White Sox, so this will not be the first of his MLB career. He has also made nine starts in Triple-A this season, including his last seven appearances, so he is stretched out and ready to go. Here is a quick reminder of what the right-hander has done lately:

2014, White Sox, 5 starts: 3.77 ERA, 28⅔ innings, 19 Ks, 12 BB, 0 HR
2015, Triple-A, 9 starts: 3.88 ERA, 51 innings, 53 Ks, 15 BB, 1 HR
2015, Triple-A, last 7: 3.63 ERA, 39⅔ innings, 40 Ks, 11 BB, 0 HR*
2015, A's, 5 relief apps: 3.38 ERA, 10⅔ innings, 8 Ks, 9 BB, 1 HR**

* 7 starts since returning to Triple-A from MLB stint, beginning May 24
** The home run was hit by George Springer, a right-handed hitter

He also made a relief appearance with the White Sox last year, and a few in Nashville this season, but I'm more interested in what he did when he was making a full start. The improved strikeout and walk rates are excellent signs for the 26-year-old, but there is a different split that might end up being the determining factor in his success: his ability to retire left-handed batters.

Lefties have always been a problem for Bassitt.  In each year from 2012-14 (counting all levels, including MLB), they outpaced righties by more than 200 points of OPS against him, and in his partial 2014 season the gap was nearly 400 points. In 2013-14, he struck out around five right-handers for each one he walked, but against lefties his K/BB was only around 1.5. All of this has come in small sample sizes, so those OPS numbers must be taken with a grain of salt, but overall these initial returns do support the scouting report regarding his struggles with lefties.

And how about this year? Again, this includes both Triple-A and MLB outings:

2015, vs. RHH: .214/.272/.247, 41 Ks, 11 BB, 1 HR (in 170 PAs)
2015, vs. LHH: .193/.306/.316, 31 Ks, 16 BB, 1 HR (in 135 PAs)

Good news/bad news time. The bad news: that .193 batting average is probably a mirage, courtesy of some batted-ball luck. He's still walking more lefties than I'd like, with that OBP 113 points higher than the batting average, and they're still hitting for some doubles power (he's always had a knack for keeping the homers low). The good news: That K/BB rate of nearly 2.0 is easily the best he's ever had against lefties, and that's the stat we should be focusing on the hardest with these tiny sample sizes. I'm going to temper this good news by mentioning that, in MLB this year, he's walked eight of the 28 lefties he's faced and struck out only five, but that was early in the season. He spent over a month back in the minors, and hey, a trip to Nashville worked for Kendall Graveman. Hopefully the most recent, improved performance will turn out to be the real one. And, of course, he's still destroying right-handers.

Bassitt is no sure thing, not even against a Rockies team that only scores 3.6 runs per game outside of Coors Field (as opposed to 5.4 at home). Fortunately for him, though, Colorado is missing Corey Dickerson and Justin Morneau, two powerful lefties who could have given him a lot of trouble if they weren't each on the DL. His biggest left-handed tests will be Carlos Gonzalez (.726 OPS, 10 HR), Charlie Blackmon (.795 OPS, 10 HR, homered yesterday off Evan Scribner), and Ben Paulsen (.877 OPS, 5 HR).

And really, those should be his only left-handed tests, because without Dickerson and Morneau the Rockies are conveniently righty-heavy -- perhaps that is one reason the A's chose to call on Bassitt on three days' rest over lefty Brad Mills, who is coming off two sparkling, scoreless performances for the Sounds. The only other lefties on the Rockies roster are backup infielders Daniel Descalso and Rafael Ynoa, and frankly they are free to start either of those guys if they'd like to bench .304 hitter and Gold Glover DJ LeMahieu at 2B, two-way superstar Troy Tulowitzki at SS, or Nolan Arenado's 24 homers and multiple Gold Gloves at 3B (note: lineup just came out and those regulars are playing, while Descalso and Ynoa are on the bench.) Arenado is basically their Josh Donaldson, statistically, with 4.0 bWAR already and elite performance on both sides of the ball. And, not to make you nervous, but he has been markedly better this year against RHP and on the road, which ... dagnabbit. Those are both new trends so hopefully they're small-sample flukes and he goes 0-for-4 tonight.

How do you think Bassitt will perform tonight against the Rockies? Will he feast on the stack of right-handers, or will those lefties be enough to get to him? Will he go all A's on us and strike out all the lefties but then give up homers to the righties, just to sink us further into confusion, like everything else in this bizarro season? Yeah, that's probably most likely. Hope you added Michael McKenry or someone random to your FanDuel lineup.

Here is who Bassitt will be facing:

Kick their ass, C-Bass!

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