Adam Oller's Solid Start(s)
Last week Adam Oller made his MLB debut, and didn't receive the warmest of welcomes by A's fans for his work. Several comments on social media declared Oller's start, and the decision to trade for him, to be representative of the A's lack of desire to win. In all fairness, the box score, and what they witnessed with their own eyes was not the greatest start. Today's start wasn't a huge success, but there were also some defensive miscues that hurt his line. But in fairness to Adam Oller, there was a lot to like. And in this point in his career, all we need to see is the potential for value.
Of particular interest to me was his velocity and stuff. His Sinker consistently sat around 94-95 mph with plus movement. Up in the zone it acted much like a four seam fastball. He used it for strikes of both the swinging and looking variety. He mixed in a cutter and changeup both of which worked all the corners. This wasn't just on the eyeball test. STUFF+ is a statistic which calculates the physical properties of a pitcher's mix such as Velocity Difference, Vertical Movement, Horizontal Movement, individual Pitch Velocity, and Spin Rate. Adam Oller's first outing received a 118.4. For reference, Gerrit Cole got a 130.6, and Clayton Kershaw received a 108.3. This is somewhat misleading as a pitcher's movement tends to flatten out throughout a start, and it is a very small sample size. But to that I say, so were his struggles. Among pitchers who have thrown at least 50 pitches, which is essentially every starter and each team's most used reliever, Adam Oller placed 22nd. AHEAD of Frankie Montas and Chris Bassitt. I'm not saying he's an Ace, but his pitches are major league capable, with high upside. I completely see why the A's targeted him.
So... What went wrong? Adam Oller shared his thoughts on this: "At the end of the day, I thought I had good stuff. I just couldn't locate." Case in point, the first big league batter he faced was Brandon Lowe. He quickly got him down 1-2 with two offspeed pitches at the bottom of the zone, and then threw perhaps his flattest Sinker of the night here:
After that he seemed to get too careful, and wouldn't get near the strike zone until he had to. His opponents, a very patient team in the Rays, simply waited him out. I'm no pitching coach, but it looked to me like he was struggling with his challenge pitch. When he had his back to the wall and had to throw a strike, he sacrificed that strong movement on his sinker and left it right in the sweet spot. I think this will be corrected naturally as he learns to trust his pitches early in the count. The strike zone was also fairly small for both teams, and Oller lost 7-8 potential strikes.
I won't do a deep dive into the start today's start as much of the underlying data has not yet been released. However, he threw first pitch strikes to the first seven batters faced and got two strikes on all but Gurriel's sac fly. When he finally fell behind to Alejandro Kirk and walked him, all four balls could have been called strikes. This is to say nothing of defensive miscues and bad calls which extended innings. All of this coming against the second best offensive team in baseball, behind the A's...