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Examining STEAMER's projections for the Oakland A's starting pitchers

Where will the A’s starting pitching come from in 2017?

Folks, we’ve reached projection time of the year. It’s the time of year where some folks take any projections that match their preconceived notions and flaunt them like gospel for days on end. Others rage against the figurative machine, faulting said projections as nerd-dome gone wrong.

In reality, projections are sometimes, right, sometimes wrong, sometimes in-between, and mostly a fun, unbiased but not unfaulty way of estimating a player’s future performance.

For the past two A’s seasons, finding starting pitching has been an arduous task. In both seasons, the A’s squeezed innings out of arms unfit for Major League Baseball, and those innings came with little meaning attached as the A’s pitching woes (along with historically poor defense, awful and untimely hitting, and injuries across the board) meant the team was out of playoff contention.

2017 will be different. 2017 should be different. The A’s have a plethora of pitching depth ready to take the reigns at the big league level. This isn’t Eric Surkampian pitching depth either, the A’s have nine or so legitimate pitchers with arguments to be mainstays of a successful rotation, plus a handful of guys who make for above average sixth men.

In the minors, the A’s have talent, maybe unfit for action to start the year but if things break right, available to take over late in the season. That fantastic depth shifts the question of 2016, Can the A’s fill these innings, to a more positively flavored ask of How will the A’s fill these innings?

The first offseason projection available for our use is that of STEAMER, a well respected projection system that can be found at FanGraphs. STEAMER has historically done well, but again, you should never treat any one system or person's projections as gospel.

Chris Bassitt 2016 GS (MLB) 2016 IP (MLB) Steamer GS Steamer IP Steamer ERA
Sonny Gray 22 117 32 197 3.98
Sean Manaea 24 144.2 31 185 4.00
Kendall Graveman 31 186 31 181 4.47
Jharel Cotton 5 29 26 148 4.07
Andrew Triggs 6 56.1 26 143 4.32
Daniel Mengden 14 72 3 18 4.44
Jesse Hahn 9 46.1 3 18 4.63
Dillon Overton 5 24.1 3 18 4.96
Zach Neal 6 70 2 44 4.41
Raul Alcantara 5 22.1 2 39 4.40
Chris Bassitt 5 28 2 9 4.40
Paul Blackburn 0 0 2 9 5.10

Some unorganized thoughts:

-All in all, very reasonable projections. Last year, the A's were stretched thin, using a team high 13 starting pitchers over the course of the season. That doesn't tell the full story - some of those starts were taken by an un-stretched-out Andrew Triggs, recently claimed off waivers Ross Detwiler, or fully functional Eric Surkamp.

STEAMER projects 12 guys to get starts for the A's in 2017, another high number, but one that's much more palatable. The depth taking those starts is much more established than the hodgepodge group forced on the mound last season, and likes of Hahn, Neal, Alcantara, etc. should be well equipped to jump in.

-Andrew Triggs at 26 starts and 143 innings pitched with a 4.32 ERA seems a touch aggressive to me. He has always struck me as a Jesse Chavez type - someone the A’s will use in the rotation until his effectiveness wanes. In 2016, he hit his career inning high mark at 76, and while the A’s haven’t exactly been cautious in bumping inning counts up, I’d expect them to not push Triggs much further than the 115-120 inning junction as a starter. More likely, they’ll give his arm some rest when it stops getting outs at a better than league average rate.

-STEAMER projects Gray as a solid innings eater, roughly a #3 in terms of ERA and WAR. That would be a huge step up from last year, but a step down from 2015, and frankly a very conservative and unexciting projection.

-Kendall Graveman’s projections are interesting as well, a bad case scenario that is unfortunately likely. With poor infield defense, the A’s are ill equipped for the groundballer, and that bad defense could cause him to put up a worse ERA and therefore fewer innings.

-Frankie Montas’s absence from the list is expected, as the projection system is unlikely to see an injury riddled pitcher with just a handful of upper minors starts under his belt as a viable option to start in 2017. We know from solid sources that Montas is an option to take starts this season, and while he shouldn’t be counted on for a large quantity of innings, he’s capable of delivering the best innings of anyone on the roster. He in particular will be affected by the A's win-loss record: the A's are less likely to push the already injury riddled flamethrower unless a playoff berth is on the line.

-The spread of innings will be dictated by a few very well correlated issues. Injuries will of course be determining factor number one in how many starters see serious innings and get actual starts. The severity of those injuries, and therefore how good the A’s are as a team will determine from there where those innings go. If the A’s are a bad team, giving innings to say, a Dillon Overton is less of painful proposition. But if there somehow in the race, those innings will more likely go to higher upside pitchers like Daniel Mengden or Frankie Montas or Jesse Hahn, or even a player from outside the organization.

Where do you think the projections hit? Where do they miss?