Wednesday, July 21, 2010
2010 Mid-Term A'ssessment: The Pitchers
Ben Sheets -- SP: 4-8, 4.63 ERA
What I Said in March: "His health is still the biggest question mark heading into the season, but Sheets is also auditioning for a midseason move to a contender."
What I Say Now: Sheets hasn't exactly turned the "question mark" into an "exclamation point", but I'll settle for the relative "ellipse" he's been over his past few starts. Since surrendering a combined 17 runs over 7.1 innings in back-to-back starts on April 27 and May 2, Sheets' ERA is 3.62 (14 GS, 89 IP). In his last four starts, his ERA is 2.77. Our boy-genius GM insists that Sheets is NOT on the trading block, despite rumored interested from Minnesota and Philadelphia. If this is true, then Billy Beane has become Brigadier General Francis X. Hummel, USMC and should be relieved of his duties, immediately. "Coco Crisp...secure the General."
Mid-Term Grade: C...It was still too much money ($10M) for a pitcher who used the first month of the regular season as extended spring training and is on track to post the highest walk and home run rates of his career. Sheets is striking out just 6.3 hitters per nine innings, which would be his lowest mark since 2003. Obviously, Beane is well aware of these shortcomings and is attempting to create some artificial scarcity in the trade market to drum up Sheets' value. Umm...right?
Gio Gonzalez -- SP: 7-6, 3.79 ERA
What I Said in March: "He's in the right type of low-pressure environment to turn things around, but pitching coach Curt Young's track record of 'fixing' pitchers is poor."
What I Say Now: Gonzalez hasn't completely turned the corner (his 56 walks allowed are second in all of baseball), but 2010 has been his best season in the big leagues, by far. It's always been between the ears with this guy. A few walks and/or some shaky umpiring was all it took to overtly rattle him during brief MLB stints in 2008-09. Now, when he gets into early trouble, he trusts his stuff (and his defense) and has stopped trying to blow everyone away. He's only allowed nine home runs in 114 inning and lefties are hitting .155/.219/.278 off of him.
Mid-Term Grade: B...Gonzalez is still susceptible to patient teams who'll work the count and sit on the fastball (he's been hit hard twice by NYY and was wobbly against BOS), but most of the pitchers in the game have the same flaw. He's not nearly as polished as some of the A's other young starters, so there's still room for this already-talented kid to grow, y'all.
Trevor Cahill -- SP: 9-3, 2.94 ERA
What I Said in March: "Cahill completely ditched his plus-curveball after repeatedly falling behind in the count. I'm not sure he can improve enough...for me to take anything except the "over" [on his projected ERA]."
What I Say Now: Cahill improved enough to be one of baseball's 800 All-Stars this year. Why? In 2009, over all his pitches in nearly 180 innings, Cahill threw his curveball just 2.7% of the time. In 2010, he's dropped a deuce 12.6% of the time. Cahill's strikeout rate -- though, still not great -- is up to 5.84 (from 4.53). His walk rate (3.63 to 2.83) and home run rate (1.36 to 0.97) are down. And, he even snagged a starring role alongside legendary (yeah, you heard me) A's starting pitcher Dave Stewart in the team's best commercial of the year.
Mid-Term Grade: B+...Regression could be on the horizon for Cahill, though. His BABIP is a crazy, unsustainably low .225 and his FIP would theoretically add more than a run to his current ERA. I only mention this for the esoteric-centric in my audience. Wherever his numbers end up this season, it's been fun to watch this unassuming sack of mashed potatoes pitch like he belongs.
Dallas Braden -- SP: 4-7, 3.83 ERA
What I Said in March: "He's one of many A's who are easy to root for, but until he shows he can pitch a full season on 60% of a left foot, I'm going "over" [on his projected ERA].
What I Say Now: Braden will always have the perfect game on his resume. And, unfortunately, Braden will always have the perfect game on his resume. He's been solid this season (5.84 K/9; 1.55 BB/9 and an ERA that's pretty indicative of his performance), but his Mother's Day performance has created an odd dichotomy in which everyone will raise expectations while affording Braden the benefit of the doubt. It makes for difficult -- potentially myopic -- evaluation of his body of work going forward.
Mid-Term Grade: A...So sue me. I've got the final six outs and the entire postgame hullabaloo from Braden's perfect game that originally aired on Comcast Bay Area saved on my DVR. His embrace with his grandmother still turns me into a slobbering pool of goo. Braden is 0-5 (4.10 ERA) in nine starts since then and has endured several minor injuries and ailments. Still, I don't think anyone's ready to invoke the name of Mike Warren. Yet.
Andrew Bailey -- CL: 18 SV, 1.70 ERA
What I Said in March: "Bailey will finish third in the AL in saves."
What I Say Now: As of this writing, Bailey is fourth in saves in the Junior Circuit. He made the All-Star team for the second time and is only six saves away from matching his 2009 total. Still, he hasn't looked nearly as dominant as he did when he won the AL Rookie of the Year award last year. Some of the numbers bear this out as his K/9 rate is way down (9.8 to 6.5). His ERA is 1.56, but his FIP is almost two runs higher (3.47). Now, you can choose to embrace or ignore "nerd stats", but even to the naked eye, he's not the baby-faced assassin from last year. He's still effective, but...let's agree to keep an eye on him. Cool?
Mid-Term Grade: A-...Bailey's job is to lock down the ninth and he's done that. Admittedly, it's a little silly to mark him down for "his numbers are not what they seeeeeeem". Still, the closer's role has been a star-crossed position for A's fans since Dennis Eckersley took his mustache to St. Louis in 1996. From the Jason Isringhausen roller-coaster to Billy Koch's self-immolations to Keith...wait, Keith Foulke was terrific in 2003...to the abominable Arthur Rhodes experiment to Octavio Dotel setting the tone by blowing a save in his first appearance to the rise and fall of Huston Street. Aw, sh*t, Andrew.
And, the rest...: SP Vin Mazzaro didn't crack the rotation full-time until early June. He's 3-1 in his last five starts with an ERA of 2.06, but could be on his way out when SP Brett Anderson returns from the DL later this month. Anderson signed a long-term deal earlier this season and then injured his elbow. He's 2-1 in just 30 IP, but hasn't given up a home run. Yale University's Craig Breslow remains the world's smartest man AND pitched well enough out of the pen (46 K in 44.2 IP) to garner a few All-Star whispers. LH hitters have raked RP Brad Ziegler for an OPS of 1.165. RP Michael Wuertz was awful in May and through most of June as worked his way back from injury, but in the last month his ERA is 1.08 (11 appearances) and he's regained his glorious slider.