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A’s fans were asked this week if they have confidence in the team’s starting rotation, and the result was still not positive. It’s the fourth time we’ve asked about the starters this year, and this time 33% of fans answered Yes to the question, “Are you confident that the A’s can contend with their current starting rotation?”
Back in late April, only 5% of fans answered Yes to the same query. Then in mid-May the approval rating rose to 33% of fans, but it dropped back down to 21% in mid-June, even before ace Frankie Montas was suspended for PEDs. The latest 33% result does represent an uptick, but it’s still far short of 50/50 much less a positive rating.
The low level of confidence is simultaneously less than they deserve, and also totally understandable. The A’s starters have been downright good, but how long can the current group keep it up?
Oakland’s rotation has posted decent-to-strong numbers across the board. Among MLB rotations, they rank 9th out of 30 in ERA (4.04), with a decent FIP (4.57, T-17th) and xwOBA (.324, T-14th) to back it up. Their 5.4 innings per start puts them 12th in the majors, so they’re eating their share of innings, and a full 50% of their starts have registered as quality outings, a rate that ranks 4th in MLB. They aren’t carrying the team on their own (7.7 fWAR, 14th), but they’re consistently putting the A’s in a position to win games.
Granted, some of those positive stats came courtesy of Montas, who is effectively out for the rest of the year. But even he only made 15 of Oakland’s 101 starts, so clearly the rest of the group has chipped in too. Mike Fiers has tossed 11 straight quality starts, with a 2.44 ERA in his last 15 games dating back to late-April. Brett Anderson has been quality in seven of his last eight outings, and his rate of 60% quality starts for the year (12-of-20) is far above the 39% MLB average. New acquisition Homer Bailey looked sharp in his debut last week.
On the other hand, it’s completely fair to remain dubious. Even during Fiers’ hot streak, his 4.17 FIP and .316 xwOBA are only slightly better than average, and his pitch-to-flyball-contact ways surely benefit from playing in the Coliseum. There are no specific reasons to expect him to cool off, but we’re probably seeing his best-case ceiling right now and that kind of thing doesn’t last forever. Meanwhile, Anderson is always an injury risk and has already thrown the third-most innings of his entire career this season; Bailey has a shaky track record and a tough test looming in Houston tonight; and Chris Bassitt and Daniel Mengden have been inconsistent, especially with their control.
This group has gotten the job done for four months, but can they continue to do so for two more? And if they reach the postseason, can they match up against the top-notch competition they’ll see there?
The fans aren’t the only ones worried about those questions. After already trading for Bailey, the A’s have also inquired on All-Stars Marcus Stroman and Mike Minor, reports Jim Bowden of The Athletic. It remains to be seen whether that concept expands into an actual rumor, but at least the front office has considered the idea of a splashy move at the top of the rotation.
After all, it seems unlikely that impact help will come from within this summer. Top prospect Jesus Luzardo missed two months to a shoulder and is now out with a lat strain, keeping him off the mound for most of the season and casting doubt and exactly when he might arrive. Sean Manaea is rehabbing in the minors, and could return in early August if all goes well, but he’s still sitting just 88-90 mph on his fastball. If Tommy John survivors Jharel Cotton or A.J. Puk make it to Oakland, it will be in the bullpen.
For now, though, the A’s are indeed a legit contender with their current starters. They hold a Wild Card spot at this moment, and are just 6.5 games out of a division that is not yet decided. They’ve got the seventh-best record in the sport, at 14 games above the .500 mark (57-43). And so the question looms: Can this rotation continue its current success all the way through to October? Or is this even the group we’ll see on the mound a month from now?
As for the normal weekly questions about the A’s, here are the latest results.
- Confidence in direction of team: 93% (up from 88%)
- Confidence in manager: 98% (up from 93%)
Looking good! This survey was taken last Monday, just after the A’s swept the White Sox. They’d won 17 of their last 22 games, finally making enough of a sustained push for the fans to buy back in, and they’ve kept it up since then by going 4-2 against the Mariners and Twins last week. The lineup is smashing and the bullpen has been mostly reliable, on top of the aforementioned success of the rotation.
Only three fanbases gave their teams a higher confidence rating last week: the Braves (98%) Astros (96%), and Rays (94%), with the Twins matching Oakland’s 93% mark (for context, only 12 teams eclipsed 80% confidence). No manager out-polled Bob Melvin, with just Houston’s A.J. Hinch and Minnesota’s Rocco Baldelli matching his 98% approval. The Mets brought up the rear, scoring just 7% in both categories.
As for the national question, this week each fanbase was asked what their team should do at the deadline. Unsurprisingly, Oakland fans were nearly unanimous that the A’s should be buyers — after all, they’ve already begun doing so by picking up Bailey.