We all know the starting pitcher corps is solid when healthy. The A’s will obviously continue to enjoy the excellence of Sonny Gray on the mound. Jesse Hahn was on pace to have a monster season before lingering injuries and a plummeting season kept him out of action. And Chris Bassitt truly started having electrifying starts in the second half of the season. Kendall Graveman is also reportedly going to be healthy entering Spring Training, and he saw major progress in his game in the second half of last season. These four combined for a 9.2 WAR last season, and that will certainly be higher next season when Hahn, Bassitt, and Graveman get to pitch full seasons.
Now, who is gone? Scott Kazmir’s chapter in Oakland is finally over. He pitched so well in Oakland that there were murmurs of him being a Cy Young Award candidate before he was traded. Jesse Chavez had an up-and-down year in Oakland, repeating the trend that he is a much stronger first-half starter than second-half. He will be pitching for the Toronto Blue Jays next season. These two combined for a WAR of 4.9, and it’s difficult to pretend that that isn’t a significant blow to a rotation.
But the A’s acquired a couple of key pieces over the offseason that they hope can fill these shoes. Most notably, they acquired Henderson Alvarez, who was an All-Star in 2014 when he brilliantly threw for a 2.65 ERA through 30 starts. Shoulder problems halted his dominance in the 2015 season, and shoulder surgery is going to keep him out of the rotation until May.
The A’s want Alvarez to be their next Scott Kazmir story. It is entirely possible that after all of the appropriate rehab, Alvarez can return and be that 4.6 WAR guy that he was in Miami.
A more puzzling offseason move was the signing of Rich Hill to a one-year, $6 million contract. Hill is 35 years old, has a career ERA of 4.54, and a proven tendency to not have great command of the strike zone. The A’s front office was wooed by his four starts in Boston last year, where he pitched 29 innings of 1.55 ERA baseball.
This will be the rotation spot to watch. Although Hill did have a great four games last season, that is still an incredibly small sample size. Also keep in mind that his two shutout starts came against teams who were watching their playoff hopes slip away, and he fared less well against the two teams that were solidly in the playoff hunt.
He was worth a 1.6 WAR through those four starts last year. If he maintains that performance, he will be a knock-out punch in this rotation. If not, it’s equally likely you’ll see his -1.2 WAR from 2013, where he gave up 27 earned runs through 38.2 innings for Cleveland, posting a swollen 6.28 ERA as a reliever.
The wildcard is Jarrod Parker. The A’s will obviously give him all of the time that he needs to recover and won’t pressure him to pitch until he’s absolutely ready, but he would certainly be a welcome addition to the rotation.
He hasn’t pitched in two seasons, so it’s easy to forget how important he was to the pitching staff in 2012 and 2013. But his numbers over those two seasons are nothing short of remarkable. He’s maintained a career 3.68 ERA, and that kind of pitching was sorely missed last season. Over those two seasons, he was worth a WAR of 5.7. He represents a tremendous upgrade over the pitching staff that finished 2015.
Conclusion: Scott Kazmir’s shoes will be difficult to fill, but if Henderson Alvarez comes back strong and Rich Hill has even an average year, the rotation could be two to three wins better than last year’s group.
Next: The Relief Pitchers