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An Early Look At Starting Pitchers The A’s Eschewed

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“Did I mention I also hit a HR?”
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For various reasons, the A’s did not add an off-season starting pitcher despite its rotation being the team’s biggest question mark on paper. First we heard that the A’s “liked their young starting pitchers” and wanted to see what they could do, a sentiment that held more water until Jharel Cotton and A.J. Puk went under the knife, Grant Holmes and Paul Blackburn shut down not to be heard from again (yet). Then we heard that the front office just wasn’t wild about the pitchers available in their price range, followed by insinuations that their price range was near nil — a claim which was soon after contradicted by the signing of Jonathan Lucroy to a $6.5M deal.

So maybe the young pitchers weren’t to be so loyally relied on and perhaps enough money was available to pursue one veteran addition. That still leaves the possibility open that the available group just wasn’t worth pursuing. Maybe the A’s brass will wind up looking like geniuses for nabbing on the cheap, at the eleventh hour, Trevor Cahill ($1.5M, pitching very well so far in Oakland) and Brett Anderson (minor league deal, pitching great at AAA).

Still, there is little doubt that with a relentless offense which has already scored 8+ runs 8 times in 26 games — but only able to put 6 of those in the win column — the A’s will go about as far as their rotation will allow. A month into the season, here’s how some of the pitchers most discussed on AN this past off-season have fared, presented in alphabetical order.

Andrew Cashner

The knock on Cashner has been his somewhat alarmingly low K-rate, suggesting that his solid 2017 season with the Rangers may have been a bit of a mirage. Additionally, Cashner proved to be pricier (2/$16M) than the A’s may have been willing to go given their payroll constraints.

That all being said, it is looking like Cashner may have been a stabilizing force in Oakland’s rotation had they elected to splurge enough to land him. Though just 1-3 for the struggling Orioles, Cashner not only has a 3.60 ERA in 30 IP but he has struck out 28.

With 6 IP per start, and having given up 3+ runs in 3 of his 5 starts, has he been any better than Cahill? Not really, just far more expensive, so if Cahill continues to pitch like he has in his 2 starts so far then the A’s won’t have too many regrets.

Alex Cobb

In fairness to Cobb, it’s a bit unfair to judge him yet because he sat out all of spring training before finally signing a contract with the Orioles, and his pitching has reflected his lack of prep time.

Ultimately, Cobb is non-issue because the contract he wound up signing was far above anything the A’s could have considered: 4 years/$57M, and on AN he was mostly brought up as a possible grab should his market collapse — which for a while it appeared to be doing until the O’s lost that particular game of chicken.

No one knows how it will all end up for Baltimore but let’s just say Cobb has yet to endear himself to the Orioles’ faithful. In 3 starts Cobb’s stats read line a misprint: 11.2 IP, 30 hits (seriously, how is this even possible?), 4 K, and a 13.11 ERA. No, Kendall Graveman has not been worst pitcher in the American League in 2018. That honor goes to Cobb and it’s not even close.

Doug Fister

Fister was one of my two suggested gets (the other was Miles Mikolas), based partly on his resurgent velocity throwing 89-90 MPH again last season for the Red Sox. At his best Fister was an underrated pitcher, and where I was right was that he wound up signing a very affordable contract (only 1 year and $4M guaranteed — though he could earn up to $11M over two years if his club option is picked up and he meets incentive bonuses).

However, so far Fister does not look particularly good. He has already landed on the DL, the A’s drove him out after 4.2 IP, and 105 pitches, in his last start, and while his 3.93 ERA looks decent he has walked 8 in his 18.1 IP and he has averaged just 4.5 IP per start not having lasted beyond 5 IP in any of them.

In other words what Fister is currently doing is exactly what the A’s already have: starters who can go 5 IP and pitch kind of ok.

Derek Holland

Once a hot shot prospect with the Rangers, part of Holland’s appeal was that despite his pedigree and relatively young age (31) his price tag was low (1 year/$1.75M). Plus he does a dead on Kermit the Frog impression so you have to love him.

Unfortunately, so far Holland has pitched more like Miss Piggy, posting an 0-3 record and a 5.76 ERA in 5 starts. There is some hope based on Holland’s peripherals: In 25 IP, he has amassed 25 K, suggesting that the stuff is still there. However, he has not shown much stamina, averaging 5 IP per start, he has walked 11, and he has allowed 2, 3, 3, 4, 4 ER, yet to have a start where he really put it all together. Eh.

Lance Lynn

Lynn was another more ambitious hope from fans craving a true mid-to-front of the rotation SP whose market might collapse. While Cobb got the big multi-year deal he was seeking, Lynn had to settle for a much more modest deal with the Twins: 1 year/$12M. That might have stretched the A’s budget but it wouldn’t have crippled the team going forward and at least on paper Lynn would make Oakland’s rotation look a lot more solid.

Would adding Lynn to the current rotation make the A’s a viable wild card contender? Perhaps, but so far this season Lynn has not been very effective. In his first 5 seasons, Lynn posted a 3.46 ERA and averaged over 14 wins/season, but in 2018 his first 4 starts have yielded a 7.71 ERA with a baffling 18 BB in 18.1 IP.

Perhaps like Cobb, Lynn is paying the price for signing late and not getting a full spring training. All you can say is that so far, so bad. Note that Lynn’s average fastball velocity so far has been 93.5 MPH, which is right in line with his career norm and is up from last season’s 92.6 MPH. Velocity has not been the problem, but throwing strikes and getting outs most certainly has.

Miles Mikolas

My other suggested off-season target, so far Mikolas looks like the prize of the group. His price tag wound up being in the middle at 2 years/$15.5M, roughly the annual value of the combined contracts Lucroy and Cahill signed in March.

So while you could theorize that Mikolas would only have come at the expense of adding Lucroy and Cahill — and most would probably opt for the latter if given the choice — nonetheless Mikolas has so far lived up to the “#3 SP ceiling” suggested by his recent overseas success.

In 5 starts for St. Louis, Mikolas is 3-0 with a 3.27 ERA in 33 IP. Impressively, he has walked just 2 batters all season, striking out 27. His past 3 starts have been even more stellar, each 7 IP with just 4 ER allowed (1.71 ERA).

So on one hand, Mikolas’ contract is just high enough that it would have prevented the A’s from making all the moves they wound up making, but on the flip side his presence in the rotation might have been enough to put the team over the top as a legitimate wild card contender going forward.

Tyson Ross

Why not bring back all the former A’s? A local boy who never quite made good with Oakland, Ross found his mojo with the Padres then got injured. San Diego signed him, this past off-season, to a minor league deal worth $1.75M if he made the big league rotation. The Berkeley native turned 31 this past week.

Not only did Ross make the team out of spring training, it looks like the funky-throwing right-hander is all the way back. Ross has posted a 3.64 ERA in 5 starts, averaging 6 IP/start and striking out 31 in 29.2 IP (against just 10 walks). That would look awfully good in the A’s rotation right about now for a price Oakland could certainly have afforded.

Chris Tillman

Some on AN thought Tillman would be a good, cheap reclamation project. (Tillman signed back with Baltimore for 1 year/$3M.) What they overlooked is that Tillman just isn’t very good — well, except when he randomly fires a 1-hit shutout over 7 IP as he did last night. However, that only brought his ERA down to 7.03 — hey, that’s slightly better than last season’s 7.84! — and his peripherals tell the same story (24.1 IP, 13 BB, 13 K, 5 HR).

Basically, if Chris Tillman is the answer I don’t want to know the question.

Name ERA IP K BB HR FIP
Cashner 3.60 30 28 13 6 5.31
Cobb 13.11 11⅔ 4 3 3 6.86
Fister 3.93 18⅓ 16 8 2 4.48
Holland 5.76 25 25 11 4 4.58
Lynn 7.71 18⅔ 22 18 3 5.80
Mikolas 3.27 33 27 2 5 3.78
Ross 3.64 29⅔ 31 10 2 3.07
Tillman 7.03 24⅓ 13 13 5 6.63

So what does that all add up to? Were any of these options ultimately better than the strategy of fortifying the rotation by spending $8M on signing a veteran catcher in Lucroy plus rolling the dice on two cheap former A’s in Cahill and Anderson? Time will tell.

Poll

Which starting pitcher do you think the A’s should have signed, if available for the deal they wound up signing elsewhere?

This poll is closed

  • 1%
    Andrew Cashner (2/$16M)
    (9 votes)
  • 0%
    Alex Cobb (4/$57M)
    (3 votes)
  • 1%
    Doug Fister (1/$4M guaranteed)
    (10 votes)
  • 0%
    Derek Holland (1/$1.75M)
    (4 votes)
  • 1%
    Lance Lynn (1/$12M)
    (12 votes)
  • 17%
    Miles Mikolas (2/$15.5M)
    (113 votes)
  • 28%
    Tyson Ross (1/$1.75M)
    (187 votes)
  • 0%
    Chris Tillman (1/$3M)
    (2 votes)
  • 48%
    Investing in Lucroy ($6.5M), Cahill ($1.5M), and Anderson (minor league deal) was the best move
    (317 votes)
657 votes total Vote Now