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Wheat/Chaff cont.: The “Spaghetti Against The Wall” Crew

Los Angeles Angels v Oakland Athletics
“Hopefully not a high sinker.”
Photo by Brandon Vallance/Getty Images

In 2022 the A’s went for quantity over quality, putting a record number of different players — including a record number of rookies — on the field on their way to 102 losses. Perhaps the most interesting team award would be the player that fans most forgot ever donned the green and gold. We could call this the Marco Estrada Award, although Ryan Langerhans might have a few things to say about it.

See previous Wheat/Chaff analysis here and here. Onward...

Adrian Martinez

With rookies often you need to look at process and projection over results, remembering that a ‘small’ change (the addition of a key pitch, a better timing mechanism, more exposure to hitters/pitchers, a slightly shorter swing path, refined command) can enable rookies to take huge steps forward.

The question with Martinez isn’t whether he pitched well in his maiden voyage, it’s whether he showed enough of the tools that describe an effective pitcher going forward. When the dust cleared, Martinez had a 6.24 ERA in 12 starts covering 57.2 IP, with a troubling 13 HR.

A comp, so far, is not hard to find and it’s hardly encouraging. A pitcher with a good fastball (Martinez’ fastball averaged 93.9 MPH), a plus changeup, “developing” secondary offerings, and an ability to keep the ball in the yard? That’s Jharel Cotton to a tee, perhaps the same tee batters appeared to be hitting off of when they faced him.

Cotton has been chaff throughout his big league career, surrendering 92 BB and 41 HR in just 232 IP when not recovering from Tommy John surgery. Is this the path Martinez will take?

I see signs that Martinez can craft a better path, beginning with his 2.97 BB/9 IP rate in his first go-around. In contrast, Cotton has always struggled to throw enough strikes at the big league level, with a 3.57 per-9 IP rate that has been right around 4.00 ever since his promising 5 start debut in September of 2016.

Also, Martinez is still developing his slider, which may not be an especially effective pitch right now but has a chance to be good enough to keep hitters off the fastball/changeup combo in the future.

But with Martinez, the biggest issue is the number of fat offerings that get whacked hard and far, in between all the great pitches that show his upside. I see two potential solutions to “the meatball problem” (first coined by Archie Bunker in the early ‘70s).

One is that Martinez’ fastball is described as a sinker, but when up in the zone gets precious little sinking action. Either he needs to throw 2 distinct fastballs (as many pitchers do), firing the 4-seamer up in the zone and a 2-seam sinker down in the zone, or he needs to use his sinker exclusively in the lower part of the strike zone. High “sinkers” get mashed.

I’m not sure why Martinez hasn’t thrown both a 4-seam and 2-seam fastball, but it’s not a quantum leap to think that he could. The velocity is already there for the 4-seamer, and the sinker is already a stated part of his repertoire. Give him that variety of speed, location, and action, while his slider develops a bit more, and you have a really solid pitcher.

I don’t know if Martinez will get there, but with rookies you are looking at what you see as possible, and then also whether steps forward seem attainable. With Martinez, I still see enough upside to hope he can make strides to be a solid SP in the back of the rotation.

Verdict: Wheat

Conner Capel

For me, Capel is probably the most difficult one for me to commit to a stand one way or the other, similar to Dermis Garcia in my initial group. I saw reasons to hope he was a ‘steal’ and reasons why he was so readily available for a song.

In contrast to Martinez, if you look at results you have to be encouraged as Capel saved his best hitting for Oakland: on a historically bad hitting team, Capel batted 308/.356/.519, 149 wRC+ in 22 games.

On one hand, they said “never fall in love in March or September” because you might become overly enamored of Daric Barton when he comes up and hits .347/.429/.639 in 18 September games. On the other hand, rosters are now limited to 28 in September keeping the level of competition higher, and more wild cards means more teams still playing for something down to the wire.

From an eyeball perspective, one of my concerns is that in RF I was not overly impressed with Capel’s defense. He reminded me a bit of Stephen Piscotty in being somewhat slow after getting poor reads, but being fairly competent at what he could get to. If he is a below average defender at a corner outfield position, then Capel really has to hit.

Which he did. But was his September showing a mirage or a harbinger? I liked the way he controlled the strike zone, thought his swing generated somewhat meh contact (though in fairness his slugging percentage was more than fine), and appreciated his all-fields approach.

For clues as to what one can expect from Capel as a hitter, I browsed his minor league records and his pedigree. Again, a mixed bag. Capel was a 5th round pick of the “then Cleveland Indians,” the 152nd player selected in the 2016 draft. So neither a really high pick, nor a low one.

At age 22, in AA, he struggled at the plate batting just .232/.283/.352. Thereafter, he performed better while not tearing up AAA, posting wRC+ of 110 at age 23, 111 (STL) and 112 (OAK) at age 24. Meanwhile, throughout the minors Capel’s BB rates have generally been very good, his K rates low.

I guess my bottom line is that Capel is 25, needing to hit a lot in order to be even a strong-side platoon player in RF. With options remaining he should be an absolute lock to stay on the 40-man roster and is exactly the type of player the A’s need to take a long look at in 2023.

But my gut tells me he has neither the defensive acumen nor the power to distinguish himself as a big league RFer. I could see him potentially being a “solid complementary piece in a platoon role,” but that’s not quite enough for me to sing his praises and so in one of those “51/49” you-have-to-commit decisions...

Verdict: Chaff

Adam Oller

Every season someone has to be the poster boy for Trainman to practice screaming the word “GASCAN!!!” and in 2022 Oller earned this honor. By any and all measures, he was really, really bad.

With a 6.30 ERA, Oller was also FIP’s nightmare, somehow walking 4.72 batters per 9 IP while striking out only 5.57. Oller pitched on 74.1 IP yet still found the time to serve up 17 HR. On the mound he came across as someone who really didn’t want to throw a strike, and then would give up such a booming HR you wished he would throw fewer strikes.

But the raw stuff is there. Oller’s fastball, averaging 93.5 MPH, generates plenty of movement even before it is whacked around the park. Fangraphs gives him credit for 5 pitches (fastball, sinker, slider, cutter, changeup), all used between 7%-36% of the time. As a hitter, you never know what bad pitch is coming, nor whether it will be down the middle or in the dirt!

My bottom line is this: Good raw stuff doth not a pitcher make, and Oller’s body language combined with the way he tries to pitch away from contact, suggest he may not have the mental side of the game mastered.

Oller reminds me a lot of Daniel Mengden, minus the mustache and hopefully the world views. He has a varied arsenal of pitches that in theory could be effective, and once in a while he locates everything well enough to throw a 2-hit shutout at the Phillies or a 2-hit 8 inning gem against the Yankees.

But without the ability to consistently command any of his pitches, these kinds of pitchers are “perennial #5 SPs” who will hop from town to town getting a look due to their potential, but who lack the ability to perform consistently enough even to stick at the very back of a rotation. Let’s hope J.T. Ginn is really good.

Verdict: Chaff

That’s it for now. Would love to hear your reactions and thoughts, as we await the beginning of “trade season” and the winter meetings...