Monday, November 22, 2010

2010 Final A'ssessment: Starting Pitchers

Gio Gonzalez -- (15-9, 3.23 ERA)

2010 Grade: A

The Good: Gonzalez enjoyed a breakthrough campaign in 2010. From 2008-09, Gonzalez threw a combined 132.2 innings with Oakland posting a 6.24 ERA, 1.704 WHIP and per nine inning rates of nearly 10 hits, 5.5 walks and 1.5 home runs. Last year, in just over 200 innings, his WHIP fell to 1.31 while his nine inning rates dropped to 7.7 hits, 4.1 walks and 0.7 home runs. Gonzalez got stronger as the season went along (his opponents' OPS was 70 points less in the second half). For the most part, he cut out the immature moments of petulance on the mound when he either wasn't getting calls or didn't have his best stuff. His
curveball is the best pitch most of you have never seen.

The Not-So-Good: The tradeoff for some improved control was a drop in Gonzalez's strikeout rate. He was down to 7.7 per nine innings after a K/9 number of 9.0 in 2008 and 9.9 in 2009. Gonzalez remains susceptible to especially patient teams who'll lay off his curveball. He had a pair of unwatchable outings against the Yankees' unwatchable offense and a similar slog in one of his starts against the Red Sox.

Trevor Cahill -- (18-8, 2.97 ERA)

2010 Grade: B+

The Good: Bounced back from an inconsistent rookie season (10-13, 4.63 ERA) to become the youngest Oakland SP to win at least 18 games since Vida Blue won 21 in 1971. Cahill's groundball rate was a ridiculous 56% which gave the A's terrific infield defense numerous opportunities to record outs and eradicate rallies. There was a small, but not insignificant uptick in his fastball velocity from 2009 to 2010 and after inexplicably ignoring his curveball in 2009 -- which was considered a plus-pitch for him in the minors -- he threw it much more often in 2010 with effective results.

The Not-So-Good: There is a heated debate between casual fans and sabermetricians as to just how impressive Cahill's season really was. His strikeout rate improved, but remains unimpressive at 5.4 per nine innings. Stat-heads believe a lot of Cahill's success is attributable to his .238
BABIP -- the best in the big leagues and considered to be unsustainable by those who crunch the more esoteric statistics.

Dallas Braden -- (11-14, 3.50 ERA)

2010 Grade: B

The Good: In a season when our geographic rivals won the World Series (and did it with the kind of personality, long hair and poor hygiene that's been an Athletics gimmick for more than four decades), Braden's perfect game on Mother's Day remains an almost-satisfying consolation prize. It's been on my DVR ever since and the tearful postgame hug between Braden and his grandmother is carrying a DiMaggio-like streak of choking me up every time I watch it. Though victimized by poor run support, Braden started a career-high 30 games, reduced his walk rate to 2.0 per nine innings and tossed shutouts against 2010 playoff teams Tampa Bay and Texas. Say what you will about his demonstrative personality, it's made Braden the unquestioned leader of the callow Athletics rotation.

The Not-So-Good: Braden's pitching performance on May 9, 2010 covered up a LOT of nonsense. His contrived feud with Yankees 3B Alex Rodriguez over pitching mound etiquette was made more embarrassing when Braden took it upon himself to escalate the one-way war of words in a few subsequent interviews. Later in the season, when the A's used the dust-up to market ridiculous "Get Off My Mound" t-shirts, Braden climbed atop his pious high horse and washed his hands of the gasoline he used to fan the flames. His pedestrian strikeout rate (5.3 per nine innings) is in line with his last two seasons and while he gutted through numerous nagging injuries and ailments, Braden will always be at war with his own body.

Brett Anderson -- (7-6, 2.80 ERA)

2010 Grade: B

The Good: With the caveat that Anderson only pitched 112.1 innings in 2010, he was off to a solid start in April (2.35 ERA, zero home runs allowed in 23 innings) before missing almost all of the next three months with a forearm strain and elbow tendinitis. When he returned for good on July 30, he pitched 81.2 innings in his 13 starts through the end of the season and posted a 2.98 ERA. Anderson reduced his walk and home run rates per nine innings, while increasing his groundball rate and strikeout-to-walk ratio. He also knows how to
crack them hoes like pistachios.

The Not-So-Good: Not long after the A's handed Anderson a four-year, $12.5 million contract (through 2013 with a pair of team options for 2014-15) the 22-year-old starter began breaking down. Most of the media speculation seemed to indicate that the A's were just being extra cautious with Anderson's injuries and that they weren't all that serious. Still, this is a team that's been notoriously injury-prone -- replacing their head trainer twice in the past four years -- so, it's anyone's guess regarding how many innings Anderson will give the team in 2011.

And, the rest... -- In his first start of the 2010 season, Vin Mazzaro threw a first-pitch, get-it-over cookie to the Rangers' Vladimir Guerrero with the bases loaded. Grand slam. In his last start of the season, Mazzaro gave up a home run on a 3-0 pitch. He finished with a 6-8 record and was traded to Kansas City (for OF David DeJesus -- whose .443 SLG would've led the A's last year...sigh) after the season. Justin Duchscherer made only five starts before hip surgery (again) ended his season. Since returning to the starting rotation in 2008, his velocity has steadily dropped to the low-to-mid 80s. I covered the Ben Sheets fiasco in
January, then again in July. Here's hoping the A's beat writers can find a player on the team's 2011 roster to inexplicably defend.

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