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AL SP Update: Tyson Ross’ Prospects

With Dallas Braden scheduled to undergo shoulder surgery next Monday and expected to miss the rest of the season, Tyson Ross‘ spot in the Oakland Athletics’ rotation just became a little more secure. With a 2.51 ERA on the season, his ownership percentage in CBS leagues has climbed from 3% to 12% since week 4. Let’s see if he is truly worth an add.

In four starts so far this season, Ross has allowed just six runs over 23.2 innings, for a 2.28 ERA. This was enough to even get him picked up in my shallow 12-team mixed league. Ross is a ground ball pitcher, having induced 49.4% of balls in play on the ground, after posting a 53.1% GB% last season. All else equal, ground balls are always preferred to fly balls, but the Athletics infield defense has been quite disappointing so far this year. Three of their four starters have posted negative UZR/150 rates, though these same three have been solidly in the positive over the past couple of years. Assuming the fielding unit turns things around, Ross’ BABIP would really benefit.

Ross throws three pitches, including a fastball around average velocity, but all three have generated positive runs above average values, while the slider has been terrific at a 5.08 mark per 100 pitches. Unfortunately, that is about all that I could say favorably about the quality of his stuff and his skill set.

Despite apparently possessing a good repertoire, his SwStk% is just 7.2%, which is below the league average of 8.4%. His Contact% is also above the league average. Of course, simply looking at Ross’ minuscule 5.0 K/9 would be enough to realize that Ross’ shiny ERA is not due to blowing away hitters. In fact, as a starter, he has just 10 strikeouts, for an even worse 3.8 K/9. His minor league strikeout rates gives us some slight optimism of better rates ahead, but definitely nothing too exciting.

As a ground ball pitcher, you could get away with a weak strikeout rate if you can display pinpoint control. This is not the case for Ross. A small 19.1 inning sample at Single-A in 2008 was the only time he has posted a BB/9 better than 3.4. Throwing a below league average percentage of first strikes will not help you in that department.

So we have a pitcher with a poor strikeout rate, and not much reason to expect dramatic improvement, and below average control that should continue. The ground balls are nice and probably all that are even keeping him in the Majors at this point. How has he posted that impressive 2.28 ERA as a starter and 2.51 ERA overall you ask? Look no further than the 0 home runs and 76.3% LOB%. Yes, the Oakland Coliseum does suppress home runs by 10%-15%, so maybe he will not regress all the way towards the league average. But once he does start seeing his HR/FB ratio creep up, the hitters he had been stranding are going to start scoring, and that LOB% is going to decline, bringing his ERA up in the process. I see little upside here and only downside, so I would be hesitant to even use him in AL-Only leagues.