Last week, Ben Lindbergh of The Ringer wrote about the Dodgers' starting rotation and their strategy for the past two years. The article made me mad, as Lindbergh is one of my top three favorite baseball writers and he wrote about a topic that's germane to the A's in a much more complete fashion than I have. He even ended the piece with a quote that will hit particularly close to home in Oakland.
What the Dodgers have tried isn't really a replicable plan. Nor is it the new Moneyball; if anything, it's an approach that wouldn't work without money. The Dodgers are spending in a way that no team has spent. We probably shouldn't be shocked that they're winning in a way that no one has won.
Let's backtrack a bit if you haven't read what Lindbergh wrote. The Dodgers are one of baseball's best teams in terms of on field record, their front office is notoriously heavy with great baseball minds, and their budget is astronomical. There is no player out of their price range, and even with an already major league leading payroll, and they can do as they please in free agency.
The Dodgers are also the most injured team over the past two seasons. And yet, they're well on their way to a playoff berth in a contention window that's wide open. As Lindbergh notes, the Dodgers aren't winning in spite of their injuries, they're winning with their injuries, and they're designed to absorb injuries by placing fellow injured players in their stead.
Injured pitcher is a phrase that might sound familiar, and that's because the A's took a similar approach to their rotation in recent years. The A's have acquired high upside pitchers with significant injury risks but thanks to the lower budget and a crammed 40-man, were unable to utilize additional layers of backup like the Dodgers have. While the Dodgers have replaced Brandon McCarthy with a very decent Ross Stripling, the A's have replaced Chris Bassitt with a hodgepodge mess, lead by the likes of Eric Surkamp.
Our knowledge of injuries is limited to say the least. The best predictor of injuries is previous injuries, and the A's have certainly not shied away from injured hurlers before.
|Jesse Hahn||UCL (Tommy John)||1 Year +|
|Jarrod Parker||UCL||1 Year +|
|Sean Nolin||Multiple||Parts of multiple years|
|Sean Manaea||Hip, Ab, Groin||Parts of multiple years|
|Scott Kazmir||Everything||2011, 2012|
|Dillon Overton||UCL||1 Year +|
The reason for this is rather obvious - the A's paid non-premium prices for arms that have premium upside. Jesse Hahn and Jarrod Parker both showed signs of being solid #2 pitchers. The former was had for a catcher who is currently hitting below .190, the latter for Trevor Cahill who almost immediately fell off a cliff. The acquired pitchers' value was certainly suppressed by their Tommy John surgified arms.
Sean Manaea's injuries weren't quite as serious, but they certainly suppressed his value too. Injuries of all sorts are a predictor of injury, though it's certain that Manaea's hip trouble didn't make him quite as risky as Hahn's Tommy John. What likely made him more attainable wasn't the injury itself, but the fact that he was further away from the bigs, and therefore less valuable. Just a few short months in baseball time after being sent to the A's, Manaea was mowing down AAA batter and knocking on the big league door. Now the Royals were desperate for Ben Zobrist and that trade worked out perfectly in Kansas City, and there's a chance they would have pulled the trigger even if Manaea was big league ready like he likely would have been without the injuries. But those injuries certainly hampered his value by holding his development back, even if in a less direct way.
Now, we know the results from 2016, and they're not pretty. The A's #5 starter Felix Doubront, who probably shouldn't have been a #5 starter at all, succumbed to an injury and underwent Tommy John surgery before the season even began. He was replaced by Eric Surkamp which is probably all you need to know, but let's recap just cause. The A's rock and supposed ace has been terrible and/or injured pretty much all year, Chris Bassitt was lost too, and the prospects the A's promoted in their place took a fairly normal learning curve in the bigs, and thus being a piece of the losing team.
That the plan failed in 2016 is mildly expected yet fine - the A's took a bit of a longball shot and it didn't work like many do not. In hindsight, it would have been much worse to sacrifice future prospects to fail less in 2016 than they did in reality, and we're still only in year two of the rebuild. A bad result is fine in a vacuum.
2017 is different. It's time to see on the field results if our faith in this regime is not to waver (or waver more, depending on your viewpoint). Fortunately, the A's look like they're in decent shape to make it through the season with a full starting cast who can put up decent results. In no particular order,
|Sonny Gray||3||Is he good?|
|Andrew Triggs||6||Limited starting experience|
|Daniel Mengden||6||Is he good?|
|Jesse Hahn||4||Is he good?|
|Dillon Overton||6||Is he good?|
|Chris Bassitt||5||TJS recovery|
|Felix Doubront||1||TJS recovery, is he good?|
2017 will be a big year in telling how the A's method of taking on pitchers with injured pasts has paid off. They've got a good base of pitchers and the rotation has fair upside.
The guys in that rotation are all far from sure things, and it's far from a sure thing those will be the guys toeing the rubber come April of 2017. We all know what can happen over a Billy Beane/David Forst offseason. But at the very least, there's sufficient depth that you can reasonably expect to get by with limited starts from the Ross Detwiler's of the world, even before the flurry of inevitable offseason moves.