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The Oakland A’s patchwork rotation has been surprisingly effective

Pictured: Not part of the expected 2016 rotation.
Kenny Karst-USA TODAY Sports

The Oakland A’s starting rotation fell apart in 2016, and it dragged the whole season down with it. This was always a risk entering the year, and unfortunately we drew something resembling the Darkest Timeline -- Sonny Gray was bad, Rich Hill got traded, and pretty much everyone else got hurt. The current rotation includes a middle reliever, a midseason waiver wire pickup, and a 27-year-old rookie who didn’t strike anyone out in the minors.

Naturally, the new group has been awesome. Well, relatively awesome, ranking in the top half of MLB rotations over the last couple weeks rather than the bottom half. Here’s one key stat for each starter, to help point out what they’re doing right.

Kendall Graveman | 100

That’s his ERA+ mark, translating to exactly league average. That’s not great for your No. 1 starter, but of course Graveman is only atop this list out of necessity; in reality you’d expect him to slot more toward the back of the rotation. The point here is to think back to how lost Graveman looked earlier in the year, when he was piling up homers and walks, and then consider that he’s fought all the way back to average. That is an incredible resurgence (3.06 ERA last 13 starts), and it’s enough that he’s quietly been worth 3.0 bWAR (only 1.2 fWAR because FanGraphs hates pitch-to-contact guys with low K rates).

Sean Manaea | 3.70

That’s his ERA if you remove his first three starts (i.e., only looking at his last 17 games). That would go along with nearly four strikeouts per walk (he’s still over three in real life). Granted, those first three career starts happened and can’t be taken away from his 2016 record, but that doesn’t mean they tell us a whole lot about what to expect in his future — he learned from them and made his adjustments (more changeups) and emerged a better pitcher. He won’t be opening 2017 by making the first three starts of his MLB career again.

Andrew Triggs | 21.00

That’s his K/BB rate as a starter, with 21 Ks and only ONE walk (in 24⅔ innings over five starts). The strikeouts are nice, but Triggs could probably still survive with a lower K rate since he is good at inducing weak contact. But that walk rate is crucial — partly because it keeps runners off the bases, but more so because it shows how efficient he’s been with his pitches en route to squeezing out 6-inning outings (season high: 89 pitches). If he was wasting another dozen pitches walking a couple guys, he might not be able to go deep enough into games to be worth starting.

Ross Detwiler | 5.5

That’s how many innings he’s averaging per start. He’s a 30-year-old lefty who is here to help the A’s get through their last month’s worth of meaningless innings, and he’s doing just fine at that job. He tossed a gem in his debut, which means he already exceeded my overall expectations.

Zach Neal | 1.1%

That’s his walk rate, having allowed only two free passes through 186 batters faced over 45⅓ innings in the bigs. Neal is basically the definition of a replacement player, but at least he’s throwing strikes and making his opponents beat him. That strategy helped him earn wins against two likely playoff teams this month (Orioles, Cardinals).


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