The Oakland Athletics caught lightning in a mousetrap when they promoted Andrew Bailey essentially from Double-A to the Major League pen. Bailey had appeared in one Triple-A game, and started for most of his minor league career, but the decision paid dividends quickly. Bailey was one of the game’s top relievers last season. Injuries and concern over Bailey’s health has lead the A’s to do something similar this spring.
If you love groundballers like we do at Fangraphs, then you’ll want to meet Ross. The right-hander posted a 56.6% ground-ball rate on the season, including a 61.9 GB% in 66.3 double-A innings. Just 22, Ross is a promising pitcher despite a modest strikeout rate in double-A (8.55 in high-A, 5.58 K/9 in double-A). His fastball can touch the mid-90s so the strikeouts should come once he improves his secondary pitches. He also needs to improve his command and control a bit after posting a walk rate of 3.48 on the seasons. Ross allowed 10 homers in high-A (1.04 HR/9) despite his impress ground-ball numbers. If his secondary pitches don’t improve, he could become a dominating late-game reliever with his sinking fastball.
Hulet wrote that only a month and a half ago, but he looks quite prescient, since the Athletics will feature Ross in the opening day bullpen. The aforementioned Baseball America noted that Ross’ delivery puts a good deal of stress on his shoulder — which lead to some injury issues. If the A’s feel Ross is an injury waiting to happen then a move to the bullpen should theoretically help.
Earl Weaver used to break his starters in as relievers, and it seems likely the A’s will use Ross in a role similar to Bailey’s in 2009. No, not as a closer, but rather as a reliever capable of going at least two innings at a time. Before Bailey turned into their closer (in June), he appeared in 23 games and threw 32 innings. As you can imagine, he pitched quite well out of the role. Ross shouldn’t be expected to pitch quite that well, but the question that remains is whether this is a short- or long-term experiment. Or, rather, is Tyson Ross’s days of starting behind him?
Ross will improve the Athletics’ pen, but that doesn’t mean this is the best decision. Unlike Jenrry Meija, though, it might be defensible.