Baseball is a confounding sport, right down to the fact that if I had 4 balls I don’t think I could walk. Unquestionably the 2023 A’s are bad and terrible, just trying to stave off a franchise record tying 108th loss for as many hours as they can.
And yet there is actually talent on the roster and in the pipeline, even if a few things have to align in order for a decent roster to emerge. An example is the beleaguered rotation. As bad as it is and has been all season, there is a world in which the 2024 Oakland A’s have not just a passable rotation but actually a darn good one.
This scenario requires some good health and continued progress, but without a doubt a rotation with Mason Miller and Joe Boyle has the potential to dominate if the former can stay on the mound and the latter can stay in the strike zone.
Last night Ken Waldichuk continued to show he might be emerging from the darkness and becoming the solid mid-rotation SP his stuff suggests he can be. Waldichuk now has a 2.99 ERA over his last 9 appearances (7 as a SP and 2 as a “bulk reliever”). Since the All-Star break he has a solid 3.80 ERA and opponents are batting .219.
And if nothing else, J.P. Sears is proving to be a workhorse having made 30 starts, thrown 163.1 IP and counting, with some good peripherals (2.70 BB/9 IP and 8.27 K/9IP).
In Miller-Boyle-Waldichuk-Sears you have at least the trappings of a legit 1-2-3-5. If still with the team, Paul Blackburn slots in nicely. Luis Medina will vie for consideration in the 2024 rotation.
And then there’s Joey Estes, one start into his big league career. Is it possible for a pitcher to go 4.2 IP, allow 6 hits, and 5 ER, with 3 HR and 2 HBP and still impress? The Eyeball Scout is here to tell you, “Yes.”
What I saw on Wednesday was a pitcher with a fastball that averaged 94 MPH and got on the hitter. Estes commanded it well, impressive considering he was a 21 year old making his major league debut. His breaking ball was a pitch he could throw for a strike when behind in the count, and did not get barreled up at all. I liked his changeup a lot and the cutter was, for the most part, an effective 4th pitch keeping hitters honest.
It’s also worth noting that 2 of the runs charged to Estes came after he left the mound, the result of a bad bullpen combined with perhaps Estes running out of gas as he tried to navigate a 5th inning.
Also notable is that you can make a good pitch and still get burned and this may have happened twice to Estes in especially damaging ways. The fastball Julio Rodriguez hit out was on the outside corner and that it landed over the CF wall says more about how freakishly good J-Rod is than about the pitch being any sort of mistake.
Cal Raleigh crushed a changeup into the RF seats, but honestly it wasn’t a badly located pitch — perhaps Raleigh was sitting changeup or maybe he just morphs into Babe Ruth when entering the Coliseum.
So of the 3 HRs, which really constituted the damage against Estes, only a cutter he didn’t get in enough to Dominic Canzone was a mistake. You could replay that outing with the exact same pitches and envision Estes completing 5 really good innings with just a couple runs on the board.
More importantly, to me, was that Estes showed poise and confidence in attacking hitters, mixing up pitches, and navigating a debut looking far beyond his years. He seems like a strong candidate to break camp in the A’s rotation in 2024, though his age may pull him back to AAA to be “next man up” if Oakland has 5 other good options in front of them.
I know the team is well on its way to losing 110+ games, but you could see a future rotation of Miller-Boyle-Waldichuk-Estes-Sears being truly legit. You could also see it being injured, wild, inconsistent, HR prone, and thus really bad — but the point is, it also has a chance of being really good. And in a “lost season” (I mean “rebuilding year”) it’s something worth hanging onto as we go into the off-season.
Does Miller-Boyle-Waldichuk-Estes-Sears excite you? Frighten you? Both? Color me intrigued at the very least and eager to see it in action.