Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Final 2008 A'ssessment: Pitchers

Catcher and DH

Greg Smith

7-16, 4.16 ERA, 32 GS

The Good News: When all 8,000 A's fans were singing Greg Smith's praises after he posted a 2.84 ERA in his first ten starts, I was the voice of reason that screamed, "Wait! He's not as awesome as you think!" Thankfully, the A's front office saw what I saw and flipped him to Colorado in the Matt Holliday deal. Smith was pretty OK in the first half (3.43 ERA), he held lefties to a .270 OBP on the year and his 15 pickoffs were one of the highlights – seriously – of the team's entire season. Ugh.

The Bad News: Smith completely imploded in the second half (2-9, 5.17 ERA) as his career-high workload caught up with him. He's got average stuff and a razor-thin margin of error, so the league simply laid off of any breaking pitch he threw and forced Smith to come at 'em with a 90 mph fastball he could only occasionally toss for strikes.

2009 Outlook: It kind of sucks that all of the Billy Beane sycophants – who LOVED Smith out of the gate – called him a low-ceiling #5 starter and focused on his won-loss record (obtained with the worst run support in the league) as Smith was on his way out the door. Still, his future is in the bullpen, where he could make millions as a Paul Assenmacher/Alan Embree imitation.

Dana Eveland

9-9, 4.34 ERA, 29 GS

The Good News: After an early August demotion to Triple-A, Eveland came back three weeks later and had a half-dozen strong starts (2.84 ERA, 2-0) before getting cuffed around in his final start of the year. He recorded a 3.49 ERA in the first half and pitched well vs. lefties all season.

The Bad News: Eveland walked 77 and struck out 118 – a terrible ratio made worse by the fact that he walked more than four batters per nine innings. RH hitters reached base at an ungodly .371 (OBP) clip. It'd be nice to see the 25-year-old take his conditioning a little more seriously. You can be a fat steaming load – a la David Wells – when your résumé shows you've earned the right.

2009 Outlook: The A's have some blue-chip pitching prospects in the pipeline behind Eveland, so he's probably not anyone's long-term answer in the rotation. Watching him blob around the basepaths during Interleague play has me hoping that he ends up in the National League, eventually. As it stands, he's probably our #3 starter right now. Damn it.

Justin Duchscherer

10-8, 2.54 ERA, 22 GS

The Good News: It was something of a breakout campaign for the unassuming, erstwhile relief pitcher. He spent most of the season among the league leaders in ERA and was named to the All-Star Game (where Fox PBP guy Joe Buck – unfamiliar with any player east of the Mississippi – mispronounced Duke's last name). He was often economical with his pitch count while going deeper into games as the season wore on.

The Bad News: As pretty much everyone predicted, Duke wasn't able to make it through his first season as a full-time starter. A hip injury nagged him all year long, before finally shutting him down in mid-August with just 141 innings pitched. There's a terrific piece over at that suggests – correctly, IMO – that some of Duke's success in '08 is not sustainable going forward.

2009 Outlook: I thought the A's should've moved Duchscherer last season at the same time they were showing Joe Blanton and Rich Harden the door. Duke will be a free agent after this season and is either going to (1) price himself right out of Oakland or (2) injure himself right back to the bullpen. He's our ace as of this writing.

Huston Street

7-5, 3.73 ERA, 63 Games

The Good News: Finished the season with a flourish, posting a 1.37 ERA over his final 19 2/3 innings in 17 appearances, striking out 20. In the first half, while still the closer, Street shook off a poor start to post a 2.74 ERA and 17 saves from mid-April to mid-July.

The Bad News: On July 13, he spectacularly blew a save against the Angels right before the All-Star Break, effectively killing the A's season. Yes, yes, the two events aren't cause n' effect, but still… Street's always been wound pretty tight, getting flustered and agitated whenever runners reach base or he can't find the touch on his pitches. He blew up at manager Bob Geren during a pitching change in Detroit and ended his A's tenure as a fifth/sixth inning spare part.

2009 Outlook: "Closer mystique", as everyone knows, is overrated. That said, Street ain't got it. He's averaged 25 saves per year in his career and is capable of doing it again, but he'll never be the lights-out stopper he was in 2005 or, to a lesser degree, in 2007.

Brad Ziegler

3-0, 1.06 ERA, 47 Games

The Good News: He threw 39 scoreless innings in 2008 to begin his career – a feat that was unquestionably (and sadly) the biggest highlight of the season for the A's. Already insanely beloved by A's fans, Ziegler blogs at the fansite Athletics Nation and comes across as a humble everyman (he was signed out of an independent league) just happy to be in the bigs.

The Bad News: One of the best and worst things about being an A's fan is that we're conditioned to generally piss on sentiment. Ziegler's 2008 season was superficially excellent, but beneath the buzz, it was a colossal fluke. He allowed his fair share of baserunners (roughly 1.5 per appearance), his BB/K ratio was only 22/30, lefties thumped him pretty good (.800 OPS) and his groundball skill set is heavily dependent on the defense behind him.

2009 Outlook: I'm calling a hee-yuge regression for Ziegler next season, if he's used the same way in '09. He's not without value, but if Oakland really has him earmarked for a part-time closer's role and/or 8th inning bridge, LH hitters will eat him alive. Let him face tough right-handers late in the game or in situations that call for a groundball and the A's could have the best years of Chad Bradford all over again.

Joey Devine

6-1, 0.59 ERA, 42 Games

The Good News: After returning from the disabled list on August 3, Devine didn't give up an earned run the rest of the season spanning 24 appearances. Before hitting the DL, his ERA stood at 1.23 through his first 18 games. LH hitters recorded a .515 OPS against Devine, while righties could only muster a .312 (!!!) on-base plus slugging. He didn't give up a home run all season (in 45 2/3 innings) and avoided the unsightly walk totals that have plagued his abbreviated big league career.

The Bad News: Devine missed about two months with a strained elbow and his rough delivery hints at future arm ailments. He was mostly a low leverage set-up man in 2008, with his best work coming when the A's had long since thrown in the towel on the season. It remains to be seen if Devine can hold up from April to October over the pressure of a real pennant race.

2009 Outlook: A's management envisions a case-by-case division of the closer's role next year. Sometimes it'll be Ziegler, sometimes it'll be Devine. I'd be stunned if this job-sharing nonsense lasted too long, though. Devine does all the things that Ziegler can't: miss bats, intimidate and shut down hitters from both sides of the plate. He not THIS good, but he's better than anyone else the A's have. The whole "grown man called 'Joey'" thing does work my nerves, though.

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