A’s 2011 Report Card: Pitching
By Joseph Lopez
The grades are in! Swingin’ A’s hands out grades to the 2011 Oakland Athletics. This is part two of a three-part series that takes a closer look at some of the A’s triumphs and struggles during the 2011 season. Read more below to see which players got a passing grade and who came up short in 2011!
Despite entering the year with one of the best starting rotations in baseball, the Oakland Athletics somehow placed third in the AL West in a very disappointing 2011 season. Oakland’s young arms, considered to be among the best in the business, entered the season with a ton of hope and potential, but injuries to several of the staff’s starters and inconsistencies on offense derailed Oakland’s 2011 campaign.
Oakland’s staff bolted to success during the first-half of the season, despite losing Dallas Braden and Brett Andersonto injuries. The A’s starting pitching depth proved to be extremely helpful this year, as Brandon McCarthy and Gulliermo Moscoso stepped up big this year in Oakland.
For Oakland, McCarthy and Moscoso definitely proved to be valuable pieces of the rotation. McCarthy, who battled shoulder problems in 2010, stayed relatively healthy this year en route to a 9-9 record and a 3.32 ERA in 170.2 innings pitched. Moscoso, meanwhile, was nearly just as good, posting a 8-10 record with a 3.38 ERA in 128.0 innings pitched this year.
Heading into to next season, both McCarthy and Moscoso should be included in Oakland’s starting rotation based on their performances this year. As Oakland learned this season, having too much starting pitching isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It actually comes in handy.
Aside from McCarthy and Moscoso, Gio Gonzalez was another Oakland pitcher who pitched extremely well this season. Gonzalez, 25, was highly effective in his follow-up to his solid 2010 campaign, posting a career high 16 wins along with a sparkling 3.12 ERA in 202.0 innings pitched this year. Aside from leading the team in wins, Gonzalez also led the team in strikeouts with 197.
Gonzalez’s continued growth and maturation as a pitcher has amazed me greatly, and the A’s young southpaw is on the cusp of stardom. He represented the A’s at this year’s All-Star game, and he’s a crucial member of Oakland’s young pitching nucleus. Gonzalez’s raw talent is finally beginning to show itself, and that Nick Swisher deal isn’t looking so bad after all.
After Gonzalez, comes A’s 2010 ace Trevor Cahill. Cahill, 23, who went 18-8 with a 2.97 ERA in 2010, experienced his share of bumps and bruises this year. Cahill followed up his Cy Young worthy 2010 campaign with a 12-14 record and a 4.16 ERA in 2011. As most expected, Cahill’s stats took a hit this season after his BABIP increased from .236 in 2010 to .302 this year. I guess the biggest difference this year for Cahill is the fact that he simply wasn’t as lucky as he was last season.
He still put together a solid season, but he failed to match the type of success he had last year. He started out the season by going 6-0, but after his amazing start, Cahill’s numbers became less impressive and bordered mediocracy at times. One thing going for Cahill, however, is the fact that he season’s final month on a solid note, going 3-1 with a 3.56 ERA. Hopefully the A’s young right-hander will carry that success into next season.
Oakland’s rotation wasn’t perfect, not by any means, but it wasn’t terrible. Sure the team’s pitching hit a big wall during the second-half, but the team saw plenty of solid performances out of their pitchers all season long.
While the rotation gets a lot of attention and credit, Oakland’s bullpen wasn’t half-bad. Oakland added relieversGrant Balfour and Brian Fuentes before the season, and both gave the team’s ‘pen much needed depth. Oakland saw plenty of gold this year in Balfour, who proved be a very consistent performer in the bullpen. The A’s have a very effective pitcher in Balfour. Fuentes, meanwhile, had an okay season, but experienced his share of disappointing moments in 2011.
Many people around baseball pegged Oakland as a playoff favorite during the preseason projections based just on the strength of their starting rotation and stingy bullpen. Oakland’s third-place finish, however, suggests that you need a little offense to help supplement the success of your pitching. The main reason, however, Oakland even placed third this season, is their pitching.
With that, I’ll just go ahead and move right into the final grades for Oakland’s pitching staff and bullpen. See who passed and who failed, and, as always, be sure to voice your opinions below in the comments section!
Ahead Of The ClassThese players amazed us more than they disappointed us. Their high level of play warrants a ton of recognition and praise. They’re definitely ahead of the rest.
- Gio Gonzalez: Despite some struggles in the second-half—he lost five straight decisions at one point—Gonzalez pitched extremely well this season for the A’s. Many expected Brett Anderson or Trevor Cahill leading this rotation in 2011, but the overlooked Gonzalez was actually the better pitcher this season. At 25, Gonzalez will continue to grow and mature as a pitcher, and I’m sure he’ll continue amaze us with his immense talents. He finished the month of September with a 5-1 record and a cool 2.20 ERA in 41.o innings. He bounced back tremendously after down months in August and July, and that’s just an indication of how much this guy’s progressed as a pitcher. The Gio Gonzalez of old may have gotten discouraged by poor performances, but this new Gonzalez has much better composure out there on the mound. This guy is on his way to stardom, trust me. Grade: A
- Brandon McCarthy: Having missed 2010 due to shoulder problems, McCarthy entered spring training with a ton of question marks regarding his health. Well, after putting together a 9-9 record and 3.32 ERA in 170.2 innings this season, I’m pretty sure we can deem McCarthy as being fully healthy. The guy threw five complete games this year for crying out loud. He proved to be a steal for the Athletics this season, since the team got him for just a one-year, $1 million contract. If this guy stays healthy next year, he could have another stellar season. Grade: A
- Grant Balfour: Balfour had himself a very productive this year in Oakland. The former Tampa Bay Ray brought his toughness to Oakland’s bullpen, and finished the season with a 5-2 record and a 2.47 ERA in 62.0 innings of work this year. He also recorded 59 strikeouts, and ranked 4th in the American League in holds with 26. He held opposing hitters to just a .199 batting average, and was one of Oakland’s stingiest pitchers this year. Grade: A
- Guillermo Moscoso: Like McCarthy, Moscoso literally just exploded onto the scene this season. Injuries opened a lot of doors to a lot of players this season, and Moscoso was one of those players who had a chance to prove himself on the big league level. In 128.0 innings this season, Moscoso surprised everyone with his efforts this year. While he didn’t have a winning record—not entirely his fault when you consider just how bad Oakland’s offense was—Moscoso put together a respectable 8-10 record to go along with a solid 3.38 ERA in 21 starts. With his solid efforts in 2011, you have to expect that Oakland will have to give Moscoso a spot in next year’s rotation. Grade: A-
- Andrew Bailey: What’s not to like about this young closer? Bailey, 27, has been a reliable closer for Oakland for three years now. Bailey’s 2011 campaign wasn’t as good as his 2010 season, but he still put up pretty solid numbers. In 41.2 innings this year, Bailey recorded 24 saves and posted a 3.24 ERA as well. Health has become an issue for Bailey, but when he’s healthy, he’s a very reliable closer. Grade: A-
In The Middle
These players didn’t really amaze us, but they didn’t exactly disappoint us either.
- Trevor Cahill: Cahill’s 2011 season wasn’t exactly a disappointment, since many people around baseball expected Cahill to regress after his incredibly lucky 2010 campaign. Cahill posted an unreal .236 BABIP in 2010, and most people expected that number would not be as low in 2011. And you know what? They were right. Cahill’s BABIP rose to .302 this season, and as a result, his numbers took a hit. He went 12-14 with a 4.16 ERA in 207.2 innings this year. While his strike out rate improved this season (6.37 K/9), his walk rate increased this year (3.55 BB/9). Like the A’s, Cahill battled through inconsistencies. He finished the final month on a strong note, so hopefully he can take that momentum into next season. Grade: B
- Jerry Blevins: Like most of Oakland’s relievers, Blevins proved to be very reliable this season. In 28.1 innings of work this season, Blevins managed to post a 2.86 ERA along with 26 strikeouts. Not bad. Not bad at all. Grade: B
- Tyson Ross: This was supposed to be Ross’ year. He duked it out with Brandon McCarthy, Bobby Cramer, Rich Harden, and a few others for the fifth-spot in the rotation during spring training, remember? He lost that battle, as we all know, but he did pop up a few times this year. In 36.0 innings this year (6 starts), Ross went 3-3 with a 2.75 ERA. But an injury in May hurt Ross’ starting status, especially with the emergence of Moscoso. Still, Ross performed well when he was healthy. Grade: B
- Fautino De Los Santos: The 25-year old De Los Santos pitched solid baseball this year for Oakland. In 33.1 innings, he posted a 3-2 record with a 4.32 ERA. He also recorded a ton of strikeouts (43). Part of the trade that sent Nick Swisher to the White Sox in 2007, De Los Santos looks like a solid relief option for Oakland in the future. Grade: B-/C+
- Brian Fuentes: From blasting Bob Geren’s unorthodox managerial style to his 12 saves this season, Brian Fuentes was a very interesting player to watch this season. In 58.1 innings of work this year, he posted a terrible 2-8 record to go along with a mediocre 3.70 ERA. While I do commend him for standing up against Geren’s cluelessness, I can’t help get over the fact that Fuentes wasn’t particularly good this year. He wasn’t terrible, but he certainly didn’t look worthy of that two-year deal Oakland offered him this past offseason. He was just…okay. Grade: C
- Craig Breslow: After performing well in 2010, Breslow encountered a bit of trouble this year. The smartest-guy in baseball—the dude has a B.A. in molecular biophysics and biochemistry—went 0-2 with a 3.79 ERA in 59.1 innings of work this year. He also blew three save opportunities, and opposing offenses had a .296 batting average against Breslow this year. Last year, opposing teams hit just .194 against Breslow. Sorry Breslow, no “A” for you this time. Grade: C-
- Josh Outman: Considered a favorite during spring training to land a spot in Oakland’s rotation, Outman appeared in just 13 games with 9 of those coming as starts. In 58.1 innings, Outman put together a 3-5 record with a 3.70 ERA. Considering he was attempting to return from Tommy John Surgery, Outman’s 2011 campaign wasn’t all that bad. He should again compete next spring for a spot in Oakland’s rotation. Grade: C-
- Rich Harden: Harden, 29, returned to his green-and-gold roots this year. He came up in the Oakland organization, but was traded in 2008 to the Chicago Cubs. The oft-injured Harden bounced between Chicago and Texas before coming back to Oakland on a one-year, $1 million contract this year. He struggled mightily last year in Texas, posting a 5-5 record with a 5.58 ERA in 18 starts with the Rangers. His K/9 rate was down to 7.34 last year after posting a 10.92 K/9 rate in 2009 with Chicago. He improved some this season, although not much. He missed pretty much the entire first-half of the season due to an injury, but never missed a start after coming off the DL in July. In 15 starts this year, Harden logged 82.2 innings of work and went 4-4 with a 5.12 ERA. His 9.91 K/9 rate was much improved versus last year, so I guess his season wasn’t all that bad. Considering he wasn’t a big risk, especially at just $1 million, Harden’s 2011 season was okay. Nothing great, though. Grade: C-
- Brett Anderson: I expected some big things from Anderson this year. Unfortunately, Anderson’s health didn’t hold up, and his value took a hit thanks to an injury-plagued season. Anderson received Tommy John Surgery, and isn’t expected back until next season during the second-half at some point. Oakland’s young southpaw, to me, at least, has always boasted the best stuff among the team’s pitchers. Staying healthy, however, has become a difficult task for Anderson. In 13 starts this year, Anderson went 3-6 with a 4.00 ERA in 83.1 innings. Not bad, but definitely not great. The talent is there, but the ability to stay healthy for an entire season may be missing. Grade: C-
The Underachieving Group
These players entered the season with some lofty expectations, but failed to live up to those expectations. These players underperformed this year, and it’s entirely possible that their stats didn’t do any justice to their careers.
- Joey Devine: Devine, who has battled numerous injuries over the past few seasons, suffered through yet another injury-plagued season in 2011. Devine, once considered for Oakland’s closer role, appeared in just 26 games this year, going 1-1 with a 3.52 ERA in 23.o innings. It’s disappointing for Devine, who definitely has the talent to be an effective reliever in Oakland’s deep bullpen. If he’s healthy, he’s among the game’s best. Hopefully Devine returns next year healthy. Grade: D+
- Michael Wuertz: Wuertz has seemingly fallen off the face of the earth. After posting a 2.63 ERA in 78.2 innings of work in 2009, his first year in Oakland, Wuertz struggled to find his footing during the last two years. Last year, Wuertz appeared in 48 games, going 2-3 with a 4.31 ERA in 39.2 innings. This year, Wuertz appeared in just 39 games, posting a 6.68 ERA in 33.2 innings of work. The descend from greatness is difficult to understand. Perhaps injuries have taken a toll on Wuertz’s body. Grade: D-
The following players did not play long enough to qualify for a grade. Further evaluation is needed…
OVERALL: The A’s entered the season with one of the best young rotations in baseball, but as we all learned, that wasn’t enough to propel the A’s into playoff contention this year. Sloppy defense, an array of injuries, and inconsistencies on offense really wasted the team’s solid pitching this season. The team finished the season with 3.71 ERA (10th in MLB) and registered 94 quality starts (7th in MLB). Grade: B