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Oakland A’s rotation is starting to look alright

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The most doubted area of the team is the only one getting the job done lately.

Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The Oakland A’s starting rotation entered the 2019 season as the most questionable area of the roster, as it was short on sure things and lacked a true ace. However, the starters aren’t the reason the team is floundering in last place with a 17-22 record. In fact, they’re beginning to look downright decent.

For the season, the A’s rotation is middle of the pack. They’re tied for 19th in ERA (4.54), and 21st in FIP (4.80), and in each stat they’re much closer to league average than last place. Those are similar rankings to last year, when they made the postseason. And lately, they’ve been showing signs of improvement from that baseline.

Oakland has played a dozen games over the last 14 days, encompassing their awful 1-8 road trip and then their home series against the Reds. The starters have put up the following combined line:

Oak SPs, last 12 gms: 71⅔ ip, 3.64 ERA, 4.11 FIP, 2.75 K/BB

Over that span, the average start has looked like this:

Avg over last 12 gms: 6 ip, 2.4 ER, 4.6 Ks, 1.7 BB, 0.8 HR, 5.3 hits

In other words, they’re averaging a quality start lately, even with most of those games coming away from the pitcher-friendly Coliseum. Indeed, half of those dozen outings did register as quality efforts, while three more missed by just one run (6 ip, 4 ER) or one inning (5 ip, 3 ER). Another was derailed by bad defense more than anything, leaving just two real stinkers.

On the individual level, four of the current arms can instill genuine confidence when they appear on the lineup card. Frankie Montas has been strong all year, and Chris Bassitt has burst onto the scene lately. Brett Anderson has steadily kept the team in the game nearly every time out, and Mike Fiers just turned around his own early slump by throwing a no-hitter last time out.

  • Montas: 2.75 ERA, 3.59 FIP
  • Bassitt: 2.55 ERA, 31 Ks in 24⅔ ip
  • Anderson: 3.88 FIP
  • Fiers: Just threw no-hitter

Combined, that quartet boasts a 3.94 ERA on the season. They’ve thrown quality starts in 50% of their 28 outings, far above the 38% MLB average.

Statcast is encouraged too. The league average for starters is a .324 xwOBA, and these four A’s sit around there or better. Here are their marks, plus their ranks among 151 MLB starters (min 75 plate appearances):

  • Bassitt: .291 xwOBA (28th in MLB)
  • Montas: .304 (47th)
  • Fiers: .323 (77th)
  • Anderson: .326 (85th)

That’s two breakout candidates who appear to be breaking out, and two solid veterans who appear solid. Not such a bad mix after all, especially after already losing one veteran arm to the injured list in Marco Estrada.

The fifth name in the group right now is Aaron Brooks, who isn’t settling in as well as the others. After holding his own for his first few games, he got beaten up pretty badly his last two times out, and the A’s skipped him in the rotation when given the opportunity this week. But even still, the team has won half of his six starts, and scored only two total runs themselves in his three losses, so trying him out hasn’t cost them one iota of anything in the big picture.

If Brooks doesn’t turn around those recent struggles, and/or if someone gets hurt, then there are still quality replacements waiting in Triple-A. Edwin Jackson is tuning up in Las Vegas after signing last month, Daniel Mengden is putting up monster numbers for the Aviators (2.77 ERA, 3.79 FIP, 10 K/9), and Paul Blackburn is humming along with three strikeouts per walk (albeit with some dinger problems). And that’s before getting to the list of injured arms who might return later in the summer, from Sean Manaea to Jharel Cotton to Jesus Luzardo to A.J. Puk to Estrada.

Mengden might even get his first crack this weekend. Susan Slusser of the S.F. Chronicle reports that Fiers will get pushed back for an extra day of rest after his 131-pitch effort in Tuesday’s no-hitter, and Mengden is the likely sub on Sunday.

Add it all up, and the A’s rotation hasn’t been the problem in 2019. They’ve been mostly fine, and lately they’ve been legitimately quality. Meanwhile, the bullpen was twice handed a lead in extra innings on the recent road trip and blew both games, and the lineup is averaging only 3.75 runs over their last 20 contests.

The offense and relievers need to step up, and there’s every reason to believe they can and will. But the rotation already has, and there aren’t a lot of reasons to assume they’ll stop.