Through the first month of the season, the A’s rotation looked unstoppable. However, the rotation’s three best starters statistically at the time, Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir, and Jesse Chavez, all shared one tragic flaw: none were suited to throwing a high number of innings in the major leagues.
Between Triple-A and the majors last season, Gray threw 182.1 innings. Kazmir threw 206.2 innings in 2007, but was out of baseball for the entirety of the 2012 season and only threw 1.2 innings in 2011. Chavez, always having been a relief pitcher, had thrown a high of 67.1 innings in 2009.
Chavez has definitely shown signs of being burned out, as he has more than doubled his previous career high of innings pitched this season at 145.1. However, he has been replaced in the rotation by Jon Lester.
Gray and Kazmir have struggled of late. Last night, Gray surrendered 6 earned runs in only 5 innings against the anemic Seattle Mariners’ offense, which ranks 19th in the league in runs scored and had been shut down by Jason Hammel (yes, THAT Jason Hammel) the day before. What is important to note is that last night, Gray surpassed his career high innings pitched at 183. It is possible fatigue is beginning to set in for the young right hander. In six starts since August 6, Gray is 1-4 with a 5.84 ERA in 37 innings.
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Kazmir has struggled much worse than Gray recently. In 6 starts since August 3, Kazmir is 2-4 and has allowed a pitiful 26 earned runs in just 30 innings pitched (7.80 ERA). Much like Gray, Kazmir is reaching a high amount of innings pitched this season. At 159.1, he has surpassed the number of innings he threw last year (158), his first season back after what was essentially a two-year hiatus from baseball. Because of the extended break, his arm is not acclimated to throwing 200+ innings as he once could. It’s very possible that his arm, too, is beginning to fatigue.
Without a break for these two pitchers, I believe their performances will only get worse. Right now, Kazmir is on track to make five more starts during the regular season, and Gray is set to make four. To date, Kazmir is averaging about 6 innings per start, while Gray is averaging 6.5. Extrapolating out for their remaining starts, that would put Kazmir at a total of 189.1 innings and Gray at 209. That’s not good.
Enter Drew Pomeranz. The young southpaw has been a starter for the majority of the year, making 9 starts for the A’s and 8 for the River Cats. He was 3-1 with a 3.69 ERA in Sacramento, and for the A’s, as a starter, he is 4-3 with a 2.87 ERA. Yesterday, he pitched wonderfully in relief of Gray to give the A’s a chance at a rally, allowing one hit in three scoreless innings while also striking out three and walking none.
Why have I brought him up? With Gray and Kazmir’s innings continuing to skyrocket, and their performances continuing to snowball out of control, they could definitely use a break to rest their arms. With the A’s needing to play their best baseball of the year in September, they cannot afford the poor outings Gray and Kazmir have had recently. A couple weeks off might be just what the doctor ordered to get them pitching like their normal selves by the time the postseason rolls around. Pomeranz is good enough to be in most teams’ rotations right now, and I believe he would do a wonderful job filling in for Gray or Kazmir. He doesn’t get too deep into games, but with extra arms due to roster expansion and a normally-reliable bullpen, that shouldn’t be a problem. Chavez, too, could step in and give the other a break.
The A’s lead for the top Wild Card spot is down to three games. It’s crunch time. And if they have any hope of catching the Angels, the A’s need the best performances out of each and every player every single game for the rest of the season. Last night the A’s had a wonderful opportunity to cut their division deficit to 3.5 games, but Gray imploded, the bats faltered for 7 innings, and it just amounted to another loss. Some might say that Oakland would be a worse team shutting down Gray and Kazmir for a few weeks, but I believe it would make us a better team both now and later.