Oakland Athletics Should Keep Kendall Graveman From Rotation


Kendall Graveman, acquired in the Josh Donaldson trade this offseason, has stood out this spring with multiple strong performances, and has made his bid to be in the Oakland Athletics starting rotation on opening day.

Even though I picked him as one of my breakout candidates for this year, I don’t think he should be in the rotation–at least to start the season.

As I’ve said before, there are many of reasons to love what Graveman brings to the table, and by no means am I bashing him. He’s consistently kept his walk rate down, with a career minor league BB/9 of 1.9, and that’s something that should translate well to the big leagues.

My concern for him is experience. While he has pitched in the big leagues (five games in September with the Toronto Blue Jays last year) all of those appearances were in relief in low pressure games. Even though he didn’t pitch poorly in those games (3.86 ERA), 4.2 innings of mop up duty in September doesn’t represent a sample size to be taken seriously.

His minor league track record is impressive. He shot through the Blue Jays system last year, going from single-A to the big leagues and every stop in between. However my main concern is that the 2013 draft pick has only pitched in 37 minor league games in his career. 211.2 innings of baseball beyond college really isn’t much at all.

Despite Graveman’s strong performance this spring, it’s important to remember that these games don’t count, so, no matter how hard they try, the players don’t go into these games with the same approach as they do in regular season games. The significance and the environment are completely different.

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Considering Graveman has never pitched in that environment (again, last year’s relief appearances don’t really count) throwing him onto the mound as a starter will be a new experience for him. I’d like him to have his first big league start after getting more experienced facing big league hitters, probably out of the bullpen. Also, he’s only made seven starts above single-A, so getting more experience at triple-A would probably benefit him.

Again, I’m not hating on Graveman. I want the best for him, and I’m worried that using him as a starter before he’s ready could have drastic consequences. If he struggles and gets sent to the bullpen or the minors, that would only mess with his confidence and wouldn’t really do him much good.

So if Graveman starts out as a reliever in the big leagues or as a starter in triple-A, who takes that last rotation spot? I’m assuming the top four goes something like Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir, Jesse Hahn and Drew Pomeranz.

Jesse Chavez is probably the best candidate to fill out the rotation, at least to start the year. Chavez was great in the first half of last year, but struggled in the second half before being basically shut down in September. I picked him to be one of my players that would disappoint this year, and while I still think that’s true, he could still be a fine fifth starter. Even if his ERA jumped up a full point, a 4.45 ERA is fine for a fifth starter. He could get the job done, but he probably won’t be a very sexy option.

The much sexier option is letting Barry Zito take the fifth starter spot to start the year. Zito’s looked good in camp so far, but his age and recent track record make me very skeptical. It’d be a nice story and I hope he succeeds, but realistically it’s hard to expect him to produce at the big league level. Regardless, letting him prove himself in the rotation for maybe three or four starts would be an interesting experiment and the beginning of the season could be the best time to do that.

Others such as Chris Bassitt, Brad Mills, Arnold Leon and a fully recovered Sean Nolin could have an outside chance at the rotation. I like Bassitt the most out of that group but those guys can probably all be expected to start the year at triple-A.

So to recap: I want my regression candidate to take the job of my breakout candidate. It’s probably the best thing for Graveman, and it gives Chavez the chance to prove me wrong. My prediction though is Chavez is the fifth starter for about a month, does okay but not great, and gets replaced by Graveman in May.

Graveman, by starting the year in the bullpen, would become acclimated to the team and the league. He’ll proceed to turn in a really solid year and help solidify the back end of the rotation, while Chavez is a long reliever who fills in for injured starters when needed.

Who do you think should be the A’s fifth starter? Let me know on Twitter @mattmcsports27 or in the comment section below.

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