The Oakland Athletics saw a strength turn into a weakness very quickly in 2015, when it came to starting pitching. A few injuries here, a few trades there and BOOM! The A’s went from a 3.37 ERA in the first half to a 5.10 ERA in the second half, and most of that was on the starting pitchers—because we all know the bullpen stunk from start to finish.
The first part of looking forward to 2016 is assessing the season that just ended, and we’re now going over the team’s results, position by position. That’s 11 articles in the 11 days, finishing before the end of the World Series and by the opening of free agency. By Halloween, you’ll know exactly what the A’s need for 2016. We promise. We’ve looked at the infield and outfield already, and now we move on to the guys on the mound.
Remember, Billy Beane is no longer the Oakland general manager: That role is now David Forst’s to fill, as Beane was promoted to Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations at the end of the team’s worst season since 1997. It will be up to Forst now to see if he can get the A’s that elusive 10th World Series title that has haunted the team over its last 10 playoffs appearances since the 1989 MLB championship.
How does a pitching staff watch its ERA balloon from a Top 10 unit before the All-Star break to a rock-bottom gang in the second half? The trade of Scott Kazmir alone doesn’t answer that question, although it’s part of the reason. In general, the A’s starters just ran out of gas, consistency and experience.
Three Opening Day rotation guys ended up on the 60-day disabled list by the end of the season: Jesse Chavez (fractured rib), Kendall Graveman (oblique strain) and Jesse Hahn (forearm strain). Kazmir—and his 2.38 ERA—was traded, while Sonny Gray had a very rough September.
Let’s not forget that key starters from 2012-13 that missed all of 2014 due to injury never made it back, either: A.J. Griffin and Jarrod Parker have now both missed two full MLB seasons.
Look quickly at the numbers here for the four starters who didn’t get traded:
- Gray: 2.04 ERA first half, 3.74 ERA second half
- Chavez: 3.40 ERA first half, 5.59 ERA second half
- Graveman: 3.38 ERA first half, 5.73 ERA second half
- Hahn: 3.35 ERA first half, didn’t pitch in the second half due to injury
Injuries happen, though, and depth became an issue for the A’s: In replacing injured and ineffective starters in the second half, the team gave too many starts to the likes of Aaron Brooks (nine starts, 6.71 ERA), Felix Doubront (eight starts, 5.81 ERA) and Sean Nolin (six starts, 5.28 ERA) in the second half—and that’s why the Oakland team ERA went sky high after mid-July.
Even Barry Zito’s farewell tour features two starts and a 10.29 ERA.
The point is the bottom fell out after mid-July. Now, we know Beane started selling pieces around that time, and there had to be a morale hit to the whole team. The three traded players alone didn’t cause the A’s winning percentage to fall 70 points: Both fatigue (mental and physical) and injuries had something to do with it as well.
Also, young pitchers who exceed their previous innings high can experience injury problems, of course: Not every pitcher in MLB can pull off the Madison Bumgarner Miracle (you know, where you exceed your previous high in innings pitched but those 40 extra innings turn out to be the best ones of your life on the biggest stage ever).
One bright spot for the second half was starter Chris Bassitt, who posted a 3.58 ERA over 86 innings and 13 starts for Oakland. Along with Gray, Graveman and Hahn, we can expect Bassitt to be in the rotation in 2016. Chavez always will be a candidate for that fifth spot, and who knows which other pitchers might come back from their injuries to provide depth.
Either way, stamina and mental fortitude will be needed in this rotation in 2016 to avoid the kind of ugly second-half breakdown that occurred in 2015.