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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16 Responses to “The A’s Rotation Without Sheets”

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  1. nickolai says:

    I was really excited to see how Anderson would follow-up his great rookie season. I’m hoping his elbow woes are all straightened out now, and not leading to TJ surgery…

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  2. Dealer A says:

    It’s a shame to see Sheets fall to injury again. He’s such a fun pitcher to watch. You have to wonder if he will ever return to full form in the big leagues.

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  3. dustin says:

    Braden is not a “Big 3” pitcher. He’s a crafty lefty who gets by without great stuff. If there’s going to be a Big 3, both Cahill, and either Gonzalez or Mazzaro will have to step up to that role.

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  4. Steve Marino says:

    Shame to see him DL-ed again, another pitcher who never reaches his potential. And I think I’m an official Fangraphs Fanboy since after hearing the news, I immediately thought of Jack Moore’s article.

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  5. Stu says:

    Sheets was rarely good this year–didn’t miss a lot of bats
    And of course this result was inevitable
    A poor free agent signing and a rare Oakland management blunder

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    • buck turgidson says:

      I was going to say – nothing fun for A’s fan to watch, that’s for sure. Total disappointment.

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  6. baycommuter says:

    Not necessarily a blunder, just a gamble that didn’t pay off… The A’s top free agent targets (Scutaro, Beltre) went elsewhere despite them being the high bidder. Right after the Marlins got dinged by the MLBPA for not spending their revenue sharing checks, the A’s seemed almost desperate to show they were good guys by signing a big-ticket free agent. If it didn’t work out, they probably don’t care all that much.

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  7. DRed says:

    Downing is not a synonym for lowering.

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  8. Hoyle says:

    Also reports of tyson ross throwing 94-98 mph in his last AAA start. His mechanics are scary, but has good stuff. Mortensen has been their most consistent AAA who could get a chance too.

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  9. Nick says:

    Would anybody be able to speak on the likeliness of Duchscherer being able to stay healthy if he were able to pitch out of the bullpen rather than start? He seems to be an extremely effective pitcher when he’s able to take the mound.

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    • suicide squeeze says:

      I think he should be fine. The last two seasons have been a result of a congenital hip problem (which should be taken care of with his surgeries) and depression. He had a couple injuries when he was in the pen as well, so I think keeping him as a starter would probably be the right move. Whether or not he will be in Oakland is the question.

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  10. Sam says:

    “That “somehow” is credit to the A’s rotation.”
    And their infield defense.

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  11. gdc says:

    Even if Cahill is better than Braden, he has to be #3 so that Anderson/Braden/Cahill will get their obvious nickname. If only Duchscherer would have stayed around to be part of the ABCD.

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  12. Matt Pullman says:

    You’re also forgetting that Tyson Ross is tearing it up in AAA as a starter right now. The Athletics might have a big five in 2-3 years. Anderson, Cahill, Gonzalez, Mazzaro, Ross. That’s without including Josh Outman who has looked great when healthy, Faustino de Los Santos who’s been touching 98 since coming back from TJ surgery and of course Dallas Braden, who, as serviceable as he is, might have the worst stuff of the eight pitchers I’ve mentioned.

    I love the Oakland Athletics.

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