When the A’s traded away Frankie Montas and Lou Trivino in August 2022 to the New York Yankees, not many expected them to get their next year’s ace back in return. JP Sears, a previous relief pitcher with the Yankees in 2022 and a left-handed arm, proved to be much more valuable than his projection and expectations highlighting the 2023 A’s starting staff, however.
Sears was acquired on August 1, 2022, from the Yankees along with LHP Ken Waldichuk, RHP Luis Medina and 2B Cooper Bowman. In exchange, the A’s sent Montas and Trivino to New York.
What were the expectations?
With just a few outings of MLB starting experience prior, the expectations for Sears were to likely eat up some starting innings for an A’s rotation that also didn’t have much experience around him. According to these standards, Sears outdid himself in 2023.
Sears’ 5-14 record and 4.54 ERA this season may not show a lot of positives, but other numbers reflect Sears as the ace of the A’s staff in 2023 although there wasn’t much talent around him to compare. Sears led the team in games started at 32, had the most innings pitched with 172.1, the highest strikeout total with 161, and the lowest WHIP at 1.265. Sears had plenty of starts that showed promising signs for the future including a six-inning, 11-strikeout performance against the Texas Rangers in late April, a 7.1-inning long outing in Detroit on July 4th where he didn’t surrender any runs, or a six-inning shoutout and win against the Los Angeles on September 1st. For every strong Sears start, however, he still got knocked around pretty hard in other starts.
While being the A’s most consistent starter all year, Sears’ season was a rollercoaster when looking at his month-to-month totals. Sears pitched 33.2 innings while surrendering just a 2.94 ERA in May while then going 1-3 in June with a 4.55 ERA. In August, Sears went 0-4 with an 8.25 ERA surrendering 22 runs in 24 innings, but then Sears went 3-2 in September with a 2.93 ERA and just one home run allowed to end his season on a high note.
What went right? What went wrong?
As alluded to in Sears’ awesome September where he just allowed one big fly, home runs were his kryptonite all season long. Sears allowed 1.8 home runs per game and 34 on the season — good for 3rd in the American League. Sears also struggled mightily against left-handed batters giving up 40 hits in 28.2 innings of work with a .323 opponent batting average. A reason for that could be his sweeper, the pitch he threw the second most, that breaks 25% less than the MLB average, had a run value of -9, and hangs right into a lefty’s wheelhouse.
One specific that went right for Sears in 2023 was his fastball. Sears gets 1.8 inches more movement than the average pitcher horizontally and 0.2 inches vertically. Hitters hit .256 off the pitch while Sears used it 50.3% of the time, but it’s a pitch he can build off of and use to his advantage with his other weapons. Sears also limited his BB% by almost a full 2% from 2022 and below the MLB average. Finally, Sears doubled his innings in 2023 from 2022 while leading the A’s in various categories, proving he’s worth a spot in the rotation moving forward.
Sears projects to be the A’s ace in 2024 and likely Opening Day starter barring any injuries or acquisitions. The 27-year-old, five-year minor league veteran finally started to see his hard work and perseverance pay off in 2023, but the next question will be whether or not Sears can build off that performance with higher expectations or if 2023 was a fluke.