The A's are known to experiment on the margins and welcome players with flashes of brilliance mixed with misery. In previous years, their names were Hendriks, Semien and Canha. I wanted to take the time to examine several players "on the borderline" of sinking or swimming. While the jury is still out on their future careers, there is enough data to discuss hypothetical futures. One of the players in this series is already out of the organization- Vimael Machin- with Jonah Bride and Kirby Snead still on the 40-man roster. So how long will Adam Oller last and will he be worth rostering?
No matter where Oller's career goes from here, it is already an uplifting tale of overcoming unfavorable odds. Although you wouldn't have guessed that from his prolific high school accomplishments. Oller made it to the All-State team as a pitcher and a catcher his senior year and also made it on two All-State teams in football as well. His baseball team went to the state Championships and Oller's teammate was current Rangers pitcher Glenn Otto. For college, it was off to Northwestern State, located in Natchitoches, LA. For the next two seasons, Oller was a literal Demon.
Known for durability, Adam and his brother Josh combined to start 30 games for the team and he became one of the most decorated pitchers in school history. Despite the impressive numbers, Oller waited until the 20th round of the 2016 draft to get selected. From 2016 until halfway through the 2018 season, he was on track to methodically climb up the Pirates depth chart. But that season from the Bradenton Marauders, Oller stunk, posting an unseemly 6.75 ERA and flimsy 8 K/9. Although just 23, the Pirates released him.
According to this well written profile on Oller, he then considered quitting baseball. His parents convinced him to give it one more go, and he explained he was "... at the point now where I just want to have fun, I want to see how hard I can throw, I want to see what I can do," Signing with the Windy City Thunderbolts of the dreaded Independent Leagues, his career was at a flash point. That's when Oller threw four spectacular games, enough to earn him a spot back in affiliated minor league baseball with the Augusta Greenjackets, a Giants affiliate.
Through 87 IP there he ended with a 4.05 ERA and 9.58 K/9 and changed teams again. Oller was working as a substitute teacher when the news broke that he was picked by the Mets in the Rule V portion of the minor league draft. Before Spring Training, Oller signed up to pitch in Australia for the winter. His team did wind up playing a game after getting quarantined for a month, but the season was cancelled and Oller shipped back to America at the age of 25 to compete for the Mets Double-A team.
Oller spent three quarters of the season in Double-A, but was even better upon a promotion to AAA. By no means a heavy strikeout pitcher (8 K/9), he accumulated a sparkling 2.45 ERA and was named the New York Mets Minor League Pitcher of the Year. The dream Oller had worked so hard for was in reach, but it wasn't going to come to fruition in New York. Considered the throw-in to the "Chris Bassitt for JT Ginn" trade that kicked off the A's stunted offseason, Oller impressed the A's enough at Spring Training to get a spot on the Opening Day roster.
The moment was one of the more heartwarming stories going into the season and Oller was thrown to the fire in game # 4 of the season. It didn't start so well, with Brandon Lowe homering in his first opposing at bat. He gave up a home run the next inning as well- in total, Oller faced 12 hitters and only got four outs. Things... got worse from there. Through four outings (13.2 IP), he yielded 20 ER with 11:11 K:BB's. It was a bitter first impression and provided a baseline as the league's worst pitcher.
Down in the Pacific Coast League, a pitching hostile environment, Oller handled himself much more competently. 3 ER across 16 IP with 18 K's was impressive enough to immediately designate him in the purgatory between the major and minor leagues. A bad outing vs. Sacramento followed, but the A's needed pitching anyway. Oller got another chance in Oakland and only pitched in two more games for the Aviators. Finally, as the disaster month of June turned torward July and August and even began cobbling together big league highlights.
The zenith of Adam Oller's 2022 happened in the Coliseum, against a playoff-bound Yankees lineup. Flirting with a no-hitter, his final line was incredible: 8 IP, BB, 3 K and no earned runs.
A late-season injury upended his early fall and halted all momentum from that game. So how did he do? Here were his final season stats:
... adding up to a -1.1 fWAR across 74.1 IP.
There's no way around it: those are some radioactively awful statistics. Looking at those numbers alone and there is no rational reason to expect Adam Oller to be anything more than a curious oddity for especially zealous A's fans to recall in the not-entirely-distant future. I dug around through the dismal 2015 Athletics and found the most similar pitcher statistically: RJ Alvarez, although Oller had much fewer K's. The closest comp I could find in '16 was this guy named "Chris Bassitt", who posted a 5.32 FIP, 4.5 BB/9 and 7.4 K/9 in 28 IP, which is about a third of the innings Oller threw.
It is not enough to say, "because the A's developed Chris Bassitt in the friendliest pitchers park to become a solid starter, they will do the same to Adam Oller". Yet, recent history shows that is within the realm of possibility (not probability) if the pitcher is willing to do their share of work and study. So is there anything about Oller's specific pitches that may hint at even mediocrity?
For this next portion I may be overwhelming some with specifics. I hope to spark interest and further my own understanding on these cutting edge statistics. Stuff+, and command+, are seemingly simple: how nasty their pitches are, and how well they command it. 100 is league average. For more information on that statistic, please see this link.
According to mlbpitchprofiler.com, Adam Oller deployed a six-pitch mix during his brief rookie year. The most seen pitch was his fastball, clocking in at about 93 MPH and 2209 rotations per minute (rpm's), which are both slightly below league average. It has an overall stuff+ of 107, because of the fantastic horizontal movement, and command+ of 98. It's a good pitch that Oller commands in a sub-par fashion.
The off-speed pitch he relied on the most was a cutter, which has 24 inches of drop and almost no horizontal action. It scores a 72 stuff+, which is abysmal, yet opponents only hit .229 off it last season. 71% of the contact vs. this pitch was classified as "poor", compared to just 55% for the fastball. Only 1% of the contact was "solid"- which is a recipe for a great Coliseum pitcher but a shaky one elsewhere.
The next four pitches were not used nearly as much, so I will try to cover them quickly.
slider: 103 stuff+, 99 command+, .191 xba and 43 inches of vertical drop- some of the best in baseball. Looks good!
change-up: 83 stuff+, 103 command+, .251 xba.
curveball: 106 stuff+, 99 command+, .200 xba.
sinker: He basically only threw this pitch in the first half of the year, it had a 112 stuff+, 94 command+, .417 xba off it. Looks awful!
Adam Oller threw a lot of different pitches last year and at least one of them he should never throw again. While the most likely outcome is failure, he has already faced brick wall and continued to work toward a remarkable goal. With that amount of work ethic, and if his cutter and slider can improve slightly, I believe Adam Oller... may actually have a place on the 2023 Athletics.
What do you think? Please discuss memories on Adam Oller's season and theories/projections on his potential future in Oakland.