The A’s Rotation Without Sheets

Last Monday, Jack Moore questioned the Oakland Athletics’ decision against trading Ben Sheets. A week later, Sheets is doubtful to make another start this season and perhaps ever again for the A’s.

This is not the first injury the Athletics have sustained and it will not be the last. Roughly $31 million of Oakland’s $58 million dollar payroll is split Between Coco Crisp, Mark Ellis, Eric Chavez, and Sheets; combined they have produced 1.4 WAR – or about $22 million per win. Somehow, the Athletics are still around .500 despite effectively playing with a $27 million dollar roster – about $5 million less than Alex Rodriguez is making by himself. That goes without even mentioning Justin Duchscherer, who banks $1.75 million of his own.

That “somehow” is credit to the A’s rotation. Brett Anderson – who returns this week – and Dallas Braden are the two best pitchers on the squad and neither has managed to stay healthy this season either. Vin Mazzaro is a relatively new addition to the rotation as well. He is only tallied 60 starting innings this season with an additional 10 in the bullpen. His 4.42 xFIP (starting only) is an improvement over what he offered last season, which is nice, but the real story of the rotation is the combination of Gio Gonzalez and Trevor Cahill.

The 22 year old Cahill has upped his groundball rate to 57% through 17 starts. For comparison’s sake, former Athletic Tim Hudson is at 66% and Justin Masterson is at 63%. Although he’s still a fastball pitcher at heart – and with groundball rates like that it’s obvious that he’s a sinkerballer – Cahill has successful substituted a curveball in place of his slider. Anytime a pitcher ups his strikeout rate while simultaneously downing his walk and home run rates it’s a joyous occasion. When Cahill does walk a batter or allow a hit, he’s getting double plays in 18% of his double play opportunities – roughly equal to the aforementioned Hudson.

Gonzalez is the elder of the pair as he is all of 24. He’s made 20 starts this season and is averaging six innings. Much like Cahill, Gonzalez has ostracized the free pass from his game; not entirely, but enough to make a noticeable difference. Gonzalez’s fastball shows good velocity and casual observers may notice the usage and depict Gonzalez in their mind as a pitcher with a dominant heater. While the pitch does get strikes, it is not quite a pastball as it only misses bats about 6% of the time. Gonzalez’s curve does the dirty work. With a ten-inch drop (relative to a ball thrown without spin), the pitch results in a whiff nearly 14% of the time.

When the holy trinity of Hudson-Zito-Mulder descended onto the other depths of Major League Baseball, everyone looked for a new big three to emerge in Oakland. Haren-Harden-Blanton did the job, just not quite as well. It’s far too early to acclaim either Gonzalez or Cahill as the third wheel alongside Braden and Anderson, but the Athletics might have the makings of a very good and very cheap rotation for the very near future.



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