A’s “Fab Four” Set For Big 2011 Season
By Joseph Lopez
Forget the ‘Big Three,’ the A’s have a stronger foundation in place for the 2011 season and beyond. A’s GM Billy Beane has spent the past few season assembling all the necessary pieces for a postseason run, and there are now some lofty expectations surrounding the A’s this year.
The A’s have positioned themselves in place to overthrow the Texas Rangers as division leaders in the American League West, and it all starts with Oakland’s pitching staff. Oakland’s ‘Fab Four’ of Trevor Cahill, Brett Anderson, Gio Gonzalez, and Dallas Braden is highly talented and can definitely stack up well against any other rotation in baseball.
Offensively, the A’s are in a much better place than where they were last season. The additions of Josh Willingham, David DeJesus, and Hideki Matsui should make some kind of difference on offense, and the A’s should be able to support their pitching staff by scoring a few more runs in 2011.
Even if the A’s have an average major league offense, the team could still do some damage out west. The AL West is a pretty wide open division, but no team has the type of rotation like the A’s have.
So it all begins with the success of the pitching staff. If Oakland is to make any noise in 2011, the starters will have replicate and build off from the type of success they enjoyed last season, where they led the majors in quality starts with 103.
Trevor Cahill (18-8, 2.97 ERA, 30 starts, 196.2 IP, 118K/63BB in 2010)
The 23-year old Cahill was tabbed as Opening Night starter by the A’s, and that’s just one example of how far this righty has come in the past year. In 2009, Cahill made 32 starts in his rookie-season, going 10-13 with a 4.63 ERA. Cahill allowed 27 homers, an Oakland rookie record, and had trouble keeping his pitches down in the strike-zone.
Last year, Cahill started the season on the DL, and missed the one month’s worth of action. He ended up winning 18 games en route to an All-Star and Cy-Young worthy season. His ERA dipped down to 2.97, and he cut his homer total from 27 to 19. He also induced a ton of ground-balls, as he kept his pitches down low in the zone.
This season, the A’s are banking on a big season from Cahill. His skeptics will say that he was incredibly lucky last year, and will often point to his ridiculously low BABIP (batting average on balls in play) of .238 as evidence of his luck. However, if Cahill can keep his pitches down low, especially his fantastic sinker, the A’s righty will find success in 2011 season.
Final Say: Cahill will likely have an ERA north of 3.00, but he’s still a vital member of the “Fab Four.” He’s got the talent to win 15+ games again in 2011, and if the offense picks up in 2011, he could very well win 20.
Brett Anderson (7-6, 2.80 ERA, 19 starts, 112.1 IP, 75K/22BB in 2010)
Anderson was primed for some really big things in 2010, but two separate trips to the DL prevented this lefty from enjoying a breakout season. He made just 19 starts last year after making 30 during his rookie-season in ’09. After a rookie-campaign that saw him go 11-11 with a 4.06 ERA, many (including myself) envisioned a 2010 breakout season, but he’s already shown injury-proneness in his short career.
He’s easily the most talented of Oakland’s ‘Fab Four,’ but health issues will be a big question this year. The A’s will likely monitor his throwing, as the team would like Anderson to stay out of the trainer’s room this year. He signed a four-year extension last April, and the A’s view him as a potential No.1 guy for the future.
Final Say: Anderson is a guy who can throw all four of his pitches for strikes, and if he’s healthy for an entire season, he’ll post some pretty impressive numbers. He’s got the skills to be an ace in any big-league rotation.
Gio Gonzalez (15-9, 3.23 ERA, 33 starts, 200.2 IP, 171K/91BB in 2010)
Gonzalez has had a roller-coaster career, but he settled in last season in Oakland’s young rotation. He led the team in innings-pitched (200.2), and strikeouts (171), and he was second in wins with 15. Safe to say, it was a very good year for Gonzalez in 2010. He underwent such a tremendous transformation last year, and he became one of the game’s best young pitchers. He kept his emotions in-check last year, and had flashes of brilliance throughout most of the season.
Another example of his continued growth and maturation, are his second-half stats for last year: 2.59 ERA & 1.13 WHIP. The A’s are banking on another big season from Gonzalez this year, and are also hoping that he’ll continue cutting back on his walk rate. He walked a few too many batters last season (91BB), but was still able to have himself a productive season.
Final Say: In 2011, Gonzalez will need to cut back on his walks, avoid the big-inning, and just continue having fun out there on the mound. With his emotions in-check, Gonzalez has the raw ability to be a legitimate star in this league for years to come.
Dallas Braden (11-14, 3.50 ERA, 30 starts, 192.2 IP, 113K/43BB in 2010)
At 27-years old, Braden is Oakland’s veteran starter. Last season, the guy with only a ‘handful of wins’ had himself quite the season. He threw baseball’s 19th perfect game on Mother’s Day, which to me highlights Oakland’s 2010 season, and had a run-in with the Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez. Braden seemed to shoot to stardom after perfect game, and entering the 2011 season, Braden seems eager to continue where the team left off in 2010.
The A’s enter the season with one of the best starting rotations out there, one that certainly stacks up well against the Phillies and Giants, and Braden figures to be a big part of the staff. He won 11 games last season, and had a highly respectable 3.50 ERA. He doesn’t possess over-powering stuff, but he does have command of all his pitches, as evidenced by his 43 walks in 192.2 innings pitched.
Final Say: The verbal leader of the A’s rotation, Braden is a solid starter and a crucial member of Oakland’s “Fab Four.” He’s a pitcher with great command of his pitches, and if he can find success with his mid-80’s fastball and low-70’s change-up, he’ll likely post double-digit wins again this season.