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RotoAuthority Unscripted: Who or What is Drew Pomeranz?

If you didn't know much about Drew Pomeranz before yesterday (or whenever), when the A's declared that he'd be slotting permanently into their rotation in place of Dan Straily, I'll forgive you. In fact, you don't have any of the Pomeranz-related baggage that some of us do. I'll save you some trouble and tell you he's totally worth a flyer. Or is it flier? He's worth a waiver claim, that's what he is. Worth a waiver claim.

Don't worry about the history if you don't have to.

But those of us old enough to remember when Ubaldo Jimenez rocked in Colorado and then got traded to Cleveland remember that Pomeranz was what the Rockies got back for their ace. I'm pretty sure both teams felt cheated, with results like that, because here's what Drew Pomeranz was in four years in Colorado: wild, but not effectively. Not to mention homer-prone.

They only gave him one extended shot in the Majors, 96.2 IP in 2012, in which he walked 4.3 batters per nine innings, striking out 7.73. He got some grounders (43.9 GB%), but allowed too many homers (1.3 HR/9), and put up a 7.93/4.81/4.49 ERA/FIP/xFIP. The Rockies somehow got 1.0 WAR out of that, but his fantasy owners were still expecting a good prospect and...well, we didn't hang onto him long enough to enjoy the fruits of that walk rate on our WHIP's.

His shorter stint in 2013 was even worse: his posted 7.89 K/9...and a K/BB in 21.2 IP. The prospecty nametag probably meant that he was on quite a few rosters for his first start or two last year, but I'm pretty sure he didn't last much longer than that.

Traded to the A's for the amazingly fragile Brett Anderson (Fangraphs called him a "lottery ticket"), it didn't appear that he would have much chance to contribute in the rotation. Maybe he would make the Majors and pitch out of the pen, we supposed. And that was the end of the story of Drew Pomeranz and his association with fantasy baseball.

And now there is (cue the Star Wars theme song) a new hope...

The Athletics are, perhaps, more clever than given credit for: they've not only saved money, but they've now inserted the much-maligned Pomeranz into their rotation after a modestly-impressive 18.2 innings to start the season. I say modestly-impressive because, while Pomeranz bears a shiny 1.45 ERA, he also carries a less lustrous 3.73 FIP and a 3.93 xFIP. It should thus be admitted that Pomeranz has not shown himself to be a True Ace hiding out in the Athletics' bullpen and revealing himself only to the unsuspecting Mariners' lineup once during a doubleheader. Or, in terms that actually make some sense: he's been good, but maybe not quite as good as it looks.

But let's not focus on the negative: this year's Pomeranz has looked pretty seriously good. His 7.71 K/9 isn't great (especially for a reliever), but his 2.89 BB/9 is a huge improvement from anything that he's given since 18.1 innings back in 2011. The 0.96 HR/9 is also a pleasant improvement on his work in Colorado, though that was certainly expected.

Digging into his game log, that start against Seattle really was excellent: five innings, five whiffs, no walks or runs, though, to be fair, it's not like the Mariners are hitting the ball against anyone (.293 wOBA--worst in the AL). He's allowed only three runs on the year, all on separate occasions, and hasn't walked two batters in an inning since his first appearance of the season.

I'm not a scout (obviously), but we can still look into his pitch mix and velocity to see if anything has changed since his Colorado ineffectiveness. His pitch mix doesn't really worry me. Though he's been, so far, a significantly different pitcher than he was in 2013, that's got to be a good thing, as he was pretty horrible then. It's probably good news that his pitch mix resembles his longer rotation stint in 2012, with the exception that he isn't throwing his changeup nearly so much. That's encouraging, not because his results were good that season, but because his success isn't necessarily due to the fact that he's been in the bullpen and can throw more fastballs. He will likely be forced to use his changeup more now that he's in the rotation, but it looks like those pitches will mostly be at the expense of curveballs. But I guess we'll have to see.

His fastball velocity is up by about a mile per hour, which isn't any shock at all since he's been pitching out of the pen. So, no news there.

Basically, looking under the hood doesn't yet tell us that Pomeranz is a different pitcher than he's previously been. But that isn't a disaster just because his previous results were. The simple environment change from Colorado to Oakland is enough to make someone fantasy relevant. Presumably, he was once a prospect for some reason. As we see more results come in, we ought to learn more about what has and hasn't changed about Pomeranz as a pitcher.

Unfortunately for our exuberance, much of the reason Pomeranz is in the rotation is because Dan Straily couldn't cut it: getting lit up for a 2.11 HR/9 and a 5.62 FIP won't keep you in many rotations, but it certainly won't keep you in the Oakland's second-only-to-the-Tigers-in-the-AL rotation. I mean, their rotation has a 0.85 HR/9 rate, including Straily's mark. So it's no wonder he's out. This despite the fact that I recently predicted (link not provided to save the author's shame) that Straily's strikeout and walk numbers suggested that he would get the chance to straighten things out, and actually do so.

So Oakland is too good for Straily, and too good for bad homer rates. This is (obviously) great news for Pomeranz, because it means he's going into the rotation. It is (somewhat less obviously, but perhaps not too much) also bad news for Pomeranz, because it means the bar for success is set extremely high, and the A's have shown that they aren't willing to put up with mediocre results, even from talented young pitchers. Like the man he's replacing, Pomeranz himself is replaceable.

Pomeranz is well worth a pickup. He should generate a few strikeouts and win some ballgames for the first-place A's, assuming he's good enough to stick in the rotation. The park ought to help keep his ERA and WHIP better than what his peripherals would suggest--and right now even the peripherals aren't bad. The upside here is pretty serious, because he'll have to be a useful pitcher just to keep starting every fifth day. Let's face it: the A's rotation is probably better than your fantasy rotation. It's sure better than mine are....

The downside is the possiblity that he'll be right back where he was a couple days ago: in the bullpen or the minors as the sixth or seventh best starter in a great rotation. If Straily is great in AAA, I wouldn't be shocked if he came back up. But hey, that's the downside that every waiver wire pitcher has. 




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