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SP or RP? A’s Have Many Difficult Decisions Ahead

MLB: Washington Nationals at Oakland Athletics
“Triggs-onometry talks about the sines...”
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Gone are the days when starting pitchers were starting pitchers and relief pitchers were relief pitchers. Nowadays it seems like every failed SP with good stuff is actually a high leverage RP in the making. Wade Davis, Trevor Cahill, Joe Blanton, and our own Liam Hendriks, are recent examples of pitchers whose inability to get batters out as SPs turned to some short-term, or long-term, dominance out of the pen.

So perhaps it’s not surprising that a team like the A’s might have a couple decisions to make as to whether a couple pitchers would be better utilized in the rotation or in the bullpen. But in the A’s case right now, it’s not just a couple pitchers. Oakland has a slew, a veritable plethora, the proverbial truckload of pitchers who have either spent time in both roles, or whom analysts have suggested might be suited to the other role.

Which of these pitchers should move forward as SPs and which should move forward as RPs? Here is one Blogfather’s take submitted, for your convenience and pleasure, in alphabetical order…

Chris Bassitt

In his rookie season, Bassitt suggested more comfort as a RP, which is unusual considering that most pitchers prefer starting if only because it is a more lucrative field. However, prior to his TJS Bassitt was performing well in the rotation.

Health willing, I see Bassitt as a SP partly because his upside is significant – perhaps as high as a #3 SP, which is a really valuable piece – and partly because his arsenal of a mid-90s fastball, solid curve and changeup, and ability to attack the strike zone, profile well in the rotation.

Unless his body demands shorter stints in order to hold up, I think the A’s should bring Bassitt to camp as a SP in the hopes that he can pick up where he left off in 2015, when his 3.56 ERA and 3.76 FIP suggested he had a lot to offer as a SP. The A’s are flush with back-end SP options but thin in those 1-3 spots right now and Bassitt is among the few candidates to rise to the level of a #3 SP if healthy and able to return to earlier form.

Verdict: SP

Jharel Cotton

I have heard fans suggest Cotton should move to the bullpen, citing fastball/changeup artists such as Trevor Hoffman and Keith Foulke as models. I don’t see it. Hoffman and Foulke could throw the ball through the eye of a needle, while Cotton’s problem is that he needs Siri to direct him to the catcher’s target.

Cotton’s issues are fastball command, a lack of effective movement on his fastball, and consistency with his cutter. If these persist, he will not be an effective reliever and if he solves them he can be an effective SP. He has a SP’s arsenal, just not the polish needed to get big league hitters out, and keep them in the park, period.

Verdict: SP

Daniel Gossett

Gossett’s struggles as he turns the lineup over multiple times has caused some to call for him to move to the bullpen. However, Gossett’s stuff doesn’t really profile as much of a useful piece in short relief. With average velocity that relies on precision, not movement, and a varied arsenal (cutter, curve, changeup) of pitches that are good when located and terrible when hung, there is nothing about Gossett that suggests he would thrive in 1-2 inning stints. Certainly with his propensity to give up HRs like they’re going out of style, you would be hesitant to throw him into too many high leverage situations. If he’s locating well enough, he’s a nice back-end SP to have or at least offers you valuable depth. As a reliever I have no reason to believe he will simply perform the way he has the first time through the order as a SP.

Verdict: SP

Daniel Mengden

A lot of the call for Mengden to move to the bullpen comes from his disparate numbers the first time, second time, and third time through the rotation. However, like Cotton I think Mengden’s issues stem not from exposure or stamina but rather from his lack of command.

Prior to September, Mengden showed little consistent command of his fastball, his changeup, his curve, his slider – and these past two starts we have seen what happens when Mengden is able to throw strikes with these offerings.

So why the historical difficulty late but not early? I would attribute it partly to small sample noise and partly to fatigue that Mengden has acknowledged being an issue last season. He has rarely, if ever, pitched fully rested and healthy, until now. And now we’re seeing what is possible over 7 IP, 9 IP. To me, Mengden is a SP all the way. If he’s wild, he will be a terrible reliever anyway. If he’s commanding his pitches, he’s a solid SP.

Verdict: SP

Frankie Montas

I’m fine with the A’s pushing Montas to start in order for him to develop his changeup. Even as a RP, Montas needs to be more than a thrower and a serviceable changeup would go a long way to keeping batters from successfully guessing and timing him.

Ultimately, though, I feel like Montas’ future is in the bullpen where he can lead with his fastball and slider, air it out for an inning, and not be exposed for long enough to have his fastball timed, his slider recognized, his propensity for mistakes exposed. Also, Montas has been unable to stay healthy and probably has a better chance to do so as a reliever.

I hope Montas makes it as a SP because his upside is significant, possibly as high as a #2 SP despite his iffy control, but I think he is best suited to being a power arm in the pen.

Verdict: RP

Andrew Triggs

This one likely will be the least popular amongst fans, but despite his excellent showing initially as a SP I see Triggs’ best role being to strengthen the A’s bullpen. It’s not that I think his success as a SP was exactly “smoke and mirrors,” but I do not believe it was sustainable – and perhaps we began to see this in his most recent outings prior to going on the DL.

Triggs is a Darren O’Day type of pitcher and it’s just awfully difficult for sidearmers to maintain consistent success against lineups that can stack 7 LH batters against you. Additionally, much of a sidearmer’s success comes from deception, which is best served in smaller doses.

The good news is that an accomplished pitcher who carves up RH batters can be a dominant reliever, and the A’s could absolutely use another dominant reliever. The bad news is that I will be surprised if Triggs can maintain the SP success he showed in his first stint, though I applaud him for what he accomplished.

Verdict: RP

Overall, one might conclude that the earlier in the alphabet your last name falls the more suited you are to being a SP. What I’m more interested in finding out, though, is which of these you agree with, which you disagree with, and why. The A’s certainly have a lot of tough decisions to make this next year, with a lot of talent in the mix but also an equal amount of uncertainty.


Which of these verdicts do you most think is incorrect?

This poll is closed

  • 18%
    (79 votes)
  • 9%
    (41 votes)
  • 9%
    (39 votes)
  • 4%
    (20 votes)
  • 8%
    (34 votes)
  • 14%
    (62 votes)
  • 34%
    They’re all right on
    (142 votes)
417 votes total Vote Now