Oakland Athletics’ A.J. Griffin Key To Moving Scott Kazmir

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The Oakland Athletics received welcome news last week when starting pitcher A.J. Griffin was activated from the disabled list, and immediately optioned to Triple-A Sacramento. Although he was roughed up by Oklahoma City in his first Triple-A start, his previous two scoreless outings in Stockton signaled a promising return.

A’s fans have impatiently waited for at least one of their two rehabbing starters (the other being Jarrod Parker) to return and provide backup for their starting rotation, but are the A’s really in a position where they desperately need to call up a starting pitcher?

In early May, there was a strong case to desire stronger starting pitching. Rookie Kendall Graveman was freshly sent back to Triple-A while sitting on an 8.27 ERA, Drew Pomeranz was struggling to pitch more than five innings, and there were questions about whether Jesse Chavez could sustain his dominant starting performances. But that was in May.

The A’s currently own an American League best 3.00 starting pitcher ERA. Not only are they dominating batters by keeping them off base, but they are doing it for more innings than any other team in the majors. As of Friday, A’s starters have combined to pitch a Major League best 419.2 innings. Since early May, Graveman has returned to the outstanding form he displayed in Spring Training, Chavez has shown no signs of slowing down, and Pomeranz has done well in a bullpen role where he does not need to worry about pitch counts.

This is an ideal situation for Griffin. He should feel no pressure to rush his rehab assignment. He can take his time in Nashville to make sure that all of his pitches are working the way he wants them to, and even more importantly make sure his arm is strong and comfortable.

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But the even bigger winner in this situation might be Billy Beane. Having Griffin ready to go in Nashville gives Beane a lot of leverage to make the much-anticipated trade of Scott Kazmir. Griffin is the piece that almost certainly allows Beane to exchange Kazmir for an upper-tier prospect without even going into “sell” mode.

A comparison of Griffin’s 2013 season and Kazmir’s 2014 season reveals that they are statistically the same pitcher. Griffin’s 3.83 ERA was only slightly higher than Kazmir’s 3.55. Both pitched around 200 innings, and Griffin even narrowly edges Kazmir in WHIP (1.13 to 1.16, respectively). They are both strikeout pitchers (171 to 164), and they both keep walks to a minimum (54 to 50).

The A’s may still be concerned about Griffin’s propensity to give up home runs, but do not read into that too much. Twenty-five of the 36 home runs that Griffin gave up in 2013 came with the bases empty. In 2013, his 1.80 home runs per nine innings when runners were not on base plummeted to 1.33 when runners were on base. Griffin challenges batters to hit his pitches when the bases are empty, but he pitches much more carefully when runners are on base and the consequences of giving up a home run are worse.

In 2014, Kazmir only gave up 16 home runs. However, only eight of these occurred with the bases empty. With the bases-empty versus men-on-base home run ratio being 50:50, Kazmir appears to approach hitting situations equally carefully. That is a skill that Griffin can learn, and a good play-calling catcher like Stephen Vogt can help him progress.

Beane should be bold if another team makes an offer for Kazmir that he can’t refuse. Kazmir has had an outstanding run with the A’s, but he is a free agent after this season. The A’s have his analog waiting in Nashville, and he should be available by the time Beane makes his move.

Next: Are The Oakland Athletics Moving On From Coco Crisp?

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