Oakland Athletics


Shutdown Corner: AL West Closer Roundup

For the next six weeks, Shutdown Corner will be reviewing the closer situations for each division in baseball, one by one. I'll give you a brief breakdown of who the likely stopper is for each team, a little bit of statistical info, a projected tier to consider when drafting your stopper, and a name or two of who might be in line to pick up saves should the projected fireman falter.

And for what it's worth, here's the tier system I'll be using, pre-season:

  • Tier 1: World-class reliever, capable of putting up a season for the ages.
  • Tier 2: Very good closer, both stable and effective.
  • Tier 3: Average closer, may be lacking either stability or effectiveness.
  • Tier 4: Poor closer, either completely ineffective but stable, or very unstable.

Texas Rangers: Joe Nathan

Joe Nathan revitalized his career with a powerful 2012 performance in Texas, during which he saved 37 games and re-established himself as a top-tier closer. Nathan's command seems to have come back following a 2010 out of baseball and a weak 2011, and the veteran struck out 30.4% while only walking 5.1%, which is actually a career low. He is entering his age-38 season, which means that his skills could fall off in a hurry if his arm goes, but recent performance says that he could still be solid.

The Rangers did go out and sign another once-mighty closer coming off injury: Joakim Soria. Soria won't be back until May, at the earliest, and will look to recover his command after Tommy John surgery. If Soria's very sharp AND the Rangers are out of contention (not too likely), then the Rangers may look to move Nathan at the trade deadline. But I expect Joe to be a powerful weapon at the end of the Rangers' 'pen for the entire season, and a nice pickup for any fantasy squad.

Projected Tier: Tier 2 (high effectiveness, minor concerns about age, park and competition)

Next in line: Joakim Soria

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: Ryan Madson

Before the 2011-2012 offseason, things were looking pretty good for Ryan Madson. Coming off a very effective 2011 as closer for the Phillies, in which he saved 32 games, posted a 2.37 ERA, and proved that performance was no fluke with an underlying 2.25 FIP. But as the offseason wore on, Madson wound up with one a one-year contract with the Reds, for what was perceived to be much less than his market value. Then, before appearing in a single regular-season game, Madson blew out his UCL and missed the whole season with Tommy John surgery.

Madson may be ready to return at the beginning of the 2013 season, but he also may not. But when he's ready, I expect him to get the first look at closing for the Halos. While Ernesto Frieri, last year's closer, is still on the roster and lurking, I expect Mike Scioscia to give Madson first crack at the ninth, given his past resume. Frieri struck out a host of hitters in 2012, posting a sick 36.4% strikeout rate, but he gave up too many homers (nine) to make the Angels very comfortable.

Unfortunately, pitchers like Madson who return from Tommy John surgery tend to struggle in their first season back. Command, especially, can be tough to recover in the first season, so I'd expect that Madson won't pitch anything like his 2011 self right away. Given this -- and the fact that the fireballing Frieri is waiting in the wings -- you'd either want to handcuff Frieri to any draft of Madson, or avoid him altogether, in my book.

Projected Tier: Tier 4 (coming off major surgery, stiff competition from Ernesto Frieri)

Next in line: Ernesto Frieri

Oakland Athletics: Grant Balfour

Boy, oh boy, did Ryan Cook look good in his 71 games in 2012. But when 2013 starts up, it's most likely that Grant Balfour will be back as the first option to close in the Oakland bullpen. Balfour, a veteran strikeout artist, has been pretty consistent since his 2008 return to a full-time bullpen role with the Rays. Balfour has a career strikeout rate of 26.4%, a critical skill for a high-leverage reliever.

And yet, I really don't expect Grant to finish the season as A's closer. If the Athletics repeat their 2012 winning ways, the team might hold on to him and keep their 'pen strength high going into the playoffs. But, more likely, I see the team dealing Balfour before his contract expires at the end of season, with young fireballer Ryan Cook assuming the ninth inning duties. If you draft Balfour, have Cook on standby, in case of a slump or deal.

Projected Tier: Tier 3 (moderate-to-high effectiveness, moderate likelihood of eventual trade)

Next in line: Ryan Cook

Seattle Mariners: Tom Wilhelmsen

One of the best bullpen stories in 2012 was the emergence of Mariners closer Tom Wilhelmsen. Despite being out of baseball entirely between 2005 and 2009, Wilhelmsen climbed through the Mariners organization to become the team's closer in 2012. He posted 29 saves despite not even earning the full-time closer position until early June. He even got in on a six-pitcher no-hitter, putting a nice bow on his narrative.

The Bartender serves up a nasty fastball-curveball combination, and it helps him get the strikeouts that are so critical to a closer's success. In 2012, Wilhelmsen logged a 26.7% K-rate, buoyed by a decent 8.9% BB-rate, which isn't half bad. Best of all, Wilhelmsen is cost-effective and isn't really challenged by any other arms in the Seattle bullpen -- meaning that he's likely to keep his closer status all season long.

While some draftniks may be put off by Wilhelmsen's late-career rise to stopper status, I'm not one of those people. I expect him to be very solid in 2013.

Projected Tier: Tier 2 (high stability, high-to-moderate effectiveness)

Next in line: Carter Capps (?)

Houston Astros: Jose Veras

There's not much in the way of proven late-inning relievers these days in Houston, which isn't a great sign. Sure, the bullpen is probably the last concern of a rebuilding club, but the Astros' impending move to the AL West means tougher competition, and shorter outings for their admittedly weak rotation. The Astros will lean on their young bullpen, and especially new recruit Jose Veras, who's in line to close.

Veras has been pretty good these past two seasons, spending 2011 with the Pirates and 2012 with the Brewers. In each season, Veras's performance was pretty similar: huge strikeout numbers (25.9% and 26.3% strikeout rates), terrible walk rates (11.2% and 13.3%) that led to pretty decent ERA totals (3.80 and 3.63). 2013 will be Veras's age-32 season, so while it's unlikely we'll see big-time improvement, there are no outstanding indicators that his performance will tank either.

But if Veras is as good as he could be, he'll have a "proven closer" tag to him, and that will make him an attractive trade target by the deadline. The Astros aren't a competitive team yet, and they'll look to move him for value, the same way they have with Mark Melancon, Brett Myers, and Wilton Lopez in the past. Don't expect him to finish his season in Houston.

Projected Tier: Tier 3 (high strikeout totals, high initial stability, high likelihood of eventual trade)

Next in line: Josh Fields (?)

All stats from FanGraphs.



The Best Fantasy Starting Pitcher Of 2012

Two weeks ago we voted on the best non-Mike Trout fantasy position player of the season, with Yoenis Cespedes beating Todd Frazier and Bryce Harper by no small margin. The Athletics' outfielder has contributed in all five traditional scoring categories, so it wasn't the most difficult choice.

The crop of rookie starting pitchers is surprisingly strong, strong enough that preseason top megaprospect Matt Moore won't even garner much Rookie of the Year consideration. The left-hander hasn't been bad by any means, but expectations were (unrealistically?) high. Matt Harvey had as good a big league debut as anyone, but he was unable to accumulate a meaningful amount of innings. Wei-Yin Chen had a fine first season in MLB, but he basically a league average producer. With all due respect to Mike Fiers (only 121 1/3 innings) and Lance Lynn (technically not a rookie due to service time), here are the three best fantasy starting pitchers of the year...

Yu Darvish | Rangers | 16 W | 3.90 ERA | 214 K | 1.27 WHIP | 184 2/3 IP

I don't love the idea that veterans of the Japanese league are considered rookies, but the rules say they are and that's all that matters. The 26-year-old Darvish has lived up to the hype this year, particularly of late. He owns the third highest strikeout rate (10.4 K/9) among qualified starters and has pitched to a 2.13 ERA with a 60/14 K/BB in his last seven starts (50 2/3 innings). His early-season walk problems -- 5.05 BB/9 as late as mid-August -- have been assuaged, bringing his WHIP down to respectable levels. The ERA is still dangerously close to the 4.08 league average, however.

Wade Miley | Diamondbacks | 16 W | 3.32 ERA | 134 K | 1.20 WHIP | 187 IP

Few teams can match the upper level pitching depth that Arizona has, but it was 25-year-old Miley who broke out of the Trevor Bauer/Tyler Skaggs/Patrick Corbin crop to became an impact pitcher as a freshman. The southpaw ranks 21st out of 91 qualified starters in ERA, though his strikeout rate (6.5 K/9) hardly stands out. Miley came into the season with relatively little hype and has exceeded all expectations, even earning a trip to the All-Star Game. In a world where pitcher wins and ERA are so important, he reigns supreme among rookies.

Jarrod Parker | Athletics | 12 W | 3.44 ERA | 134 K | 1.26 WHIP | 175 1/3 IP

Parker, 23, was another one of those high-end pitching prospects in the D'Backs system before they traded him to Oakland in the Trevor Cahill deal before the season. He stepped into the rotation in late-April and carried a flat 3.00 ERA into late-July. August wasn't very kind (4.71 ERA), but Parker has since rebounded in September (2.31 ERA). He doesn't have the one or two real standout categories to his credit like Darvish (strikeouts) or Miley (wins and ERA), but he has been a rock solid contributor in all non-save scoring categories. It's worth noting that his teammates share some of the blame on the low win total, as Parker has left a game either tied or trailing despite allowing two runs or fewer on seven occasions.



Closers: Giants, Mets, Athletics

For all the latest breaking news on closer shakeups, be sure to follow @closernews, where temporary closer demotions quietly morph into permanent ones. 

Giants
We've seen a few shrewdly handled closer committees over the past couple years, two of which now belong to the Giants and manager Bruce Bochy, who deserves plenty of real-life credit for playing matchups toward the end of getting outs and winning games -- rather than being a slave to flimsily defined niche roles such as setup man and closer.

Real-life credit is fine and all, but Bochy's saber bullpen is not going to win him any friends in fantasy circles, as we fake gamers are sick of playing Whac-A-Mole with potential Giants closers. But unfortunately for those who are speculating for saves as the season's final month approaches, they'll have to look beyond San Francisco (unless willing to sacrifice any semblance of roster efficiency), as there looks to be no end in sight to the Giants' mix-and-match philosophy.

Here's the confusing "pattern" with which we have to work: Since July 31, Jeremy Affeldt has two saves, while Clay Hensley and Javier Lopez each have one. Both of Affeldt's saves spanned longer than one inning (1 1/3 and two). Hensley's and Lopez's saves were both of the one-out variety. Lethal setup man Sergio Romo, meanwhile, has none; ditto for ex-closer Santiago Casilla. Nothing is jumping out at me here from which I can confidently infer anything. While Affeldt looks to have had an early edge in the committee, Bochy's willingness to lift him from a save chance on Saturday night in favor of Hensley kind of tells us all that we need to know. No one is promised anything here.

My sense is that any yearly leaguer who is willing to dip his or her toes into these waters must be in contention and desperate to add saves or prevent a close competitor from accruing more of them. In which case, Affeldt is probably the place to start, but short of adding Lopez and Romo -- and perhaps even Hensley and Casilla -- there's bound to be plenty of frustration for owners who are out to mine saves from this bullpen. It's hard to fathom a scenario in which owning three relievers from the same 'pen is a net win for a fantasy roster (even two is pushing it), so perhaps it's best to leave this piecemeal arrangement alone.

Mets
In truth, the 2012 Mets could have had a weekly slot as one of the three featured bullpens in this column. Between Frank Francisco's perpetual mediocrity, Bobby Parnell's inability to seize a closing opportunity when one is presented to him, and Jon Rauch's Jon Rauchness, the Amazin's have plenty of options, but all are flawed in some way such that job security is always a concern, regardless of who's filling in or bailing out at a given moment.

Most recently, a red-hot Rauch was called upon to bail Francisco out of a couple of hairy situations, earning saves in both cases. Fantasy owners are all too familiar with Rauch, and the Mets too were apparently wary of looking too much into his recent run of success, as his unexpected saves didn't translate into any kind of role change. Parnell, similarly, ceded closing chores back to Francisco after being awarded the gig when Frank-Frank was on the DL in June and July.

With little to play for, uninspiring alternatives, and Francisco on the books for 2013, perhaps the Mets are simply disinclined to rock the boat now. Certainly, they would have been within their rights to make a full-hearted change at several junctures this season. With Francisco's ownership down to 62% in Yahoo! leagues, there's roughly one-third of you who have the opportunity to snap up a free closer off the wire right now. It seems woefully naive to point out the discrepancy between Francisco's 6.06 ERA and 3.76 SIERA, but I just did, so if you want to hang your hat on anything -- however glass-half-full it may be -- in hopes that there's some chance of improvement, there it is.

In the meanwhile, Rauch and Parnell are not worth stashing until I see something out of the Mets to suggest otherwise. With so few bats missed, Rauch's nice run may soon end -- and with it, his chances of vulturing some saves. And while I think Parnell has the chops to close, the Mets might not even consider him next in line.

Athletics
I have to admit: When the A's switched back from Ryan Cook to Grant Balfour as their closer for what they said would only be a couple of save chances, I didn't know what the heck to think in terms of laying out a sensible fantasy strategy. Cook had been so good before settling into a nasty post-break slump, and Balfour's career was seemingly on life support when he relinquished closing duties earlier in the season.

So far, it has paid off for the A's. While Cook's sabbatical has extended well beyond the original two save chances that were prescribed, Balfour has banked each of his first four save chances since reclaiming closing duties -- and Cook is showing modest signs of progress, going unscored upon in each of his past three outings.

Whether the A's will once again flip-flop when convenient remains to be seen, but my guess is they'll keep things as is. Age and experience aside, Balfour and Cook are strikingly similar pitchers. Balfour's peripheral line: 7.67 K/9, 3.51 BB/9, 36% GB rate, 3.76 SIERA. Cook's peripheral line: 8.94 K/9, 4.03 BB/9, 42% GB rate, 3.56 SIERA. If anything, Cook looks like a slightly better pitcher, but not by much, and unless Balfour slumps the way he did earlier in the season, the A's will probably look for (finally) some continuity.



Closer Updates: Athletics, Rangers, Giants

The pursuit of saves is a tiresome business, so if you need to "get fresh," in the words of Ron Washington, let @closernews do the dirty work for you. On with the updates ...

Athletics
"Wait till your honeymoon's over."

A caustic Pete Campbell shared these cautionary words with the love-smitten Don Draper in Season 5 of Mad Men, reminding our protagonist that life cannot be spent skipping through flowery fields with our lovers. Somewhere in this muddled metaphor I'm constructing an analogy for A's closer Ryan Cook, whose owners are too well aware of the adage about familiarity and contempt now that the right-hander has slumped badly in recent weeks.

I was wary of Cook from the get-go, because the numbers just don't add up. There's too little daylight between his strikeout and walk rates (2.09 K/BB), and the .180 BABIP and 83.3% strand rate look fishy, too. All told, something had to give between what is now a 3.63 SIERA and what was once a sub-1.00 ERA, and we've found out which one it is.

A's manager Bob Melvin said before Monday night's game that Cook's job is safe, but I can only envision an in-contention team suffering a slumping rookie closer for so long before looking elsewhere. So, Cook owners should consider handcuffing Grant Balfour, whose surface stats have rebounded nicely after his early-season slump that cost him the ninth-inning job. Cook's and Balfour's peripherals are comically similar, so I'm not sure Balfour is any more of an improvement than Cook was, but bullpens sometimes chase their tails.

For those who don't own Cook, I'd probably pass on Balfour; this one could get hairy, and the payoff may not be worth the frustration.

Rangers
Joe Nathan's return to dominance this season has been a great, and perhaps underreported, story. Based on his age and injury history (Tommy John surgery in 2010), I had little faith before the season started that he could recapture the form that made him one of MLB's best closers for the better part of a decade. But, here we are on Aug. 6, with Nathan sitting on 21 saves and a tidy 2.31 SIERA.

That being said, if there is any lingering concern about Nathan, it's whether he can hold up at age 37 over the course of a long season in the heat of Texas. And after he allowed runs in four of seven post-break outings, the Rangers were apparently concerned enough to rest Nathan over the weekend, instead deferring to Alexi Ogando for two save chances, which he converted.

I think there's enough here to speculate that an injury could be in play, although I can't hazard a guess at the nature or severity of it. In the meanwhile, nervous Nathan owners should definitely look to handcuff Ogando, and even those who don't own Nathan might want a piece of the action. We'll need a post-rest outing or two out of Nathan before we can gauge whether something is seriously askew, but in the meanwhile, it's not a bad idea to hedge against the worst.

It's also worth noting that ace setup man Mike Adams seems to have been skipped over as Nathan's stand-in. It's not entirely shocking, considering he hasn't enjoyed the kind of success in Texas that he did in San Diego, but it certainly underscores the argument that he was perhaps a Petco Park creation to some extent.

Giants
The Lads went ahead and pulled the trigger on one of those seemingly insignificant moves that could actually prove to have big fantasy implications. In acquiring Jose Mijares from the Royals, the Giants now have another LOOGY to pair with Javier Lopez, freeing up Jeremy Affeldt to claim a substantial role in what manager Bruce Bochy unapologetically said will be a closer-by-committee. Damn if that ain't the saber-ist thing Botchy Bochy ever did. Actually, in fairness, the Giants kind of went with a committee when Brian Wilson missed a whole bunch of time last season.

Anyway, I like Affeldt a lot -- and Sergio Romo a little more and Santiago Casilla a little less -- but I think this one is about to get pretty muddled. So, while deep leaguers and NL-only types will want to get any and all of these fellas, standard leaguers may want to pass unless they're desperate.

Quickly
Nationals right-hander Drew Storen earned a save Sunday while incumbent Tyler Clippard rested after pitching on three consecutive days. I'm not reading too much into this, as Clippard is still the primary closer, but it sounds like the Nats will be fairly liberal in allowing Storen to close occasionally. ... Frank Francisco has returned to closing for the Mets, bailing out Bobby Parnell in his first game back from the disabled list. ... Red Sox right-hander Andrew Bailey is progressing through his minor league rehab stint and is slated for a mid-month return from the DL, but I think Alfredo Aceves holds onto the job for the season's balance.



Pryor, Tolleson & Doolittle: Holds Risers

Most of our content at RotoAuthority focuses on standard 12-team mixed leagues with traditional 5x5 scoring, but today we're going to veer off our usual track and look at some recent call-ups who could help in the holds category. Predicting who will pick up holds might be more difficult than predicting who will pick up saves in a given season, but banking on young power arms is never a bad idea. Here are three guys with barely two combined weeks of big league time to their credit who could help you in a holds league, presented in order of fantasy usefulness.

Stephen Pryor | Mariners

A fifth round pick in 2010, the 22-year-old right-hander has three appearances under his belt but already has seen high-leverage work. Pryor entered last night's game with men on first and second and one out with a one-run run lead in the sixth inning against a division rival, coaxing an inning-ending double play before chipping in a scoreless seventh. The 6-foot-4, 245 pounder comes right over the top with a big mid-90s fastball and a power low-80s curveball. His minor league strikeout rates are off the charts (12.3 K/9 and 33.0% of batters faced) but he needs to iron out his strike-throwing abilities (4.6 BB/9 and 12.4% of batters faced). We've seen countless late-game relievers succeed with high walk rates as long as they miss bats, which Pryor certainly does.

Tom Wilhelmsen has filled in nicely for displaced closer Brandon League, who is working setup innings and is likely to moved before the deadline. Pryor should assume eighth inning duties once that happens if not sooner.

Shawn Tolleson | Dodgers

Los Angeles called up the 24-year-old Tolleson in the wake of Javy Guerra's knee injury two days ago, though he has yet to appear in a game. The right-hander had video game numbers in the minors, with a sky-high strikeout rate (13.4 K/9 and 38.4% of batters faced) and a low walk rate (2.1 BB/9 and 6.0% of batters faced) in 120 innings since being a 30th round pick in 2010. Tolleson has a sometimes violent delivery that adds deception to his mid-90s fastball, low-90s cutter, and mid-80s slider. It's true late-inning, high-leverage stuff.

As expected, Kenley Jansen has taken over as the Dodgers' closer with Josh Lindblom handling most of the setup work. Ronald Belisario has also seen a few setup innings since coming off the restricted list. Manager Don Mattingly is from the Joe Torre school of bullpen use, meaning Tolleson will first have to prove his worth in miscellaneous middle relief innings before being trusted at the end of the game. Even if he doesn't displace Lindblom, seventh inning guys are underrated holds candidates, especially those who pile up strikeouts.

Sean Doolittle | Athletics

Doolittle, 25, has a story right out of a move script. He was the 41st overall pick in the 2007 draft as a first basemen, struggled with injuries that kept him on the shelf for all of 2010 and just about all of 2011, then converted to pitching and dominating ever since. The southpaw threw one tune-up inning last year before striking out 48 (17.3 K/9 and 51.7% of batters faced) and walking just seven (2.5 BB/9 and 7.5% of batters faced) in 25 minor league innings this season. He was called up to Oakland recently and in his first (and only) appearance, he struck out three of the four men he faced in a mop-up role. He's a fastball-slider guy and clearly has the ability to miss bats.

The A's have two veteran and imminently trade-able relievers in their bullpen in Brian Fuentes and Grant Balfour, creating a potential opportunity for Doolittle down the road. Right-hander Ryan Cook has been brilliant since coming over in the Trevor Cahill trade and currently sets up, so he figures to be the first in line for save chances. Power left-handers will get chance after chance though, so keep the former first baseman in midn when trying to dig up bullpen help later this year.



Athletics Turn To Jarrod Parker For Rotation Help

Trading for prospects is nothing new for the Oakland Athletics, who turned the duo of Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez into seven prospects in separate trades this past offseason. Left-hander Tommy Milone, who came from the Nationals in the Gonzalez trade, has been in the A's rotation since Opening Day. Last night he was joined by the recently recalled Jarrod Parker, who came from the Diamondbacks in the Cahill trade. Replacing the generally ineffective Graham Godfrey, Parker held the White Sox to one run in 6 1/3 innings yesterday afternoon. He struck out five and walked just one, getting 17 of his 19 outs on the infield. It was a strong if unspectacular debut.

The 23-year-old Parker came to the Athletics with some big league experience. He threw 5 2/3 scoreless innings against the Dodgers is his first (and only other) big league start last September before making Arizona's playoff roster. In his lone appearance in the NLDS against the Brewers, Parker allowed three of the four batters he faced in relief to reach base. He pitched to a 3.79 ERA in 130 2/3 innings Double-A innings before the callup, showing the typical control problems associated with recent elbow surgery; Parker walked 3.8 BB/9 in the minors last year after missing all of 2010 with Tommy John surgery. In four Triple-A starts before his callup, he struck out 21 batters and walked just six in 20 2/3 innings. The performance is there, and the scouting report backs it all up.

Baseball America has long touted Parker as a future high-end starter, ranking him no worse than 46th on their annual Top 100 Prospects List every year from 2008-12. They ranked him as the top prospect in Oakland's farm system following the trade, saying he "has true frontline-starter potential and isn't far away from reaching it" in their subscriber-only scouting report. Reports of a mid-90s four-seam fastball, low-90s team-fastball, mid-80s slider, and mid-80s changeup are corroborated by the PitchFX data from his start last September as well as yesterday afternoon. Parker generated 11 swings and misses with 99 pitches yesterday, an excellent rate even if it came against the team with the third highest strikeout rate -- 21.8% of plate appearances -- in baseball.

So what does this all mean from a fantasy perspective? For one, Parker has the stuff to miss bats and rack up strikeouts. Keeping the ball out of play is a great way to escape jams, as is playing in a huge ballpark. The Coliseum in Oakland is one of the pitcher-friendliest parks in the Majors, as is Safeco Field and Angels Stadium. Outside of the Rangers lineup and the ballpark in Arlington, it's a pretty good division for a pitcher. The only problem is that while Parker will get some help keeping his ERA and WHIP down, he won't win you many games. He's a three-category asset in a standard 5x5 scoring league.

Parker's upcoming schedule isn't all that great, so you're going to have to keep him glued to the bench if you pick him up right away. If you don't pick him up right away ... someone else will. Parker's next start will come at Fenway Park against the Red Sox, then he lines up for home dates against the Blue Jays and Tigers before going on the road to face the Rangers. If another owner in your league doesn't play the matchup  game and gets frustrated by Parker's performance against those clubs, I'd look to buy low on him in about three weeks. Other than Matt Moore, I don't think there's a more fantasy-ready pitching prospect this season than the former Diamondbacks right-hander.



Position Battles: Athletics Fifth Starter

The A's have been aggressive this offseason, adding David DeJesus, Josh Willingham, and Hideki Matsui to their lineup and Brian Fuentes and Grant Balfour to their bullpen. Two additions that may have gone overshadowed are the signings of Rich Harden and Brandon McCarthy, a pair of talented but injury-prone pitchers who will battle it out for the last rotation spot along with a few others. An archive of over 50 position battles that I have identified are accessible over at MLBDepthCharts.com.  

Brandon McCarthy vs Rich Harden vs Bobby Cramer vs Tyson Ross vs Josh Outman

Tale of the Tape

McCarthy: 27 years old, $1MM salary 2010 stats: 4-2, 3.36 ERA, 56.1 IP, 51 H, 11 BB, 44 K in 11 games (AAA) 2011 Outlook: Favorite, along with Harden, to be #5 starter

Named the 49th best prospect in the minors by Baseball America prior to the 2005 season, McCarthy debuted later that season as a 21-year-old for the White Sox and posted a 4.17 ERA in 10 starts. After spending the 2006 season in the White Sox bullpen, he was traded to Texas, where he spent the past four seasons. His time with the Rangers was disappointing as he made just 44 big league starts in between elbow and shoulder injuries. While he didn't make it back to the majors in 2010, he showed enough in nine starts and two relief appearances for Triple-A Oklahoma City that six other teams were reportedly interested in his services. The A's thought enough of him to offer a big league deal worth a guaranteed $1MM with another $1.6MM in incentives. 

Harden: 29 years old, $1.5MM salary 2010 stats: 5-5, 5.58 ERA, 92 IP, 91 H, 62 BB, 75 K in 20 games (18 starts) 2011 Outlook: Favorite, along with McCarthy, to be #5 starter

Like McCarthy, Harden made his big league debut at age 21 and stayed healthy throughout his second season, making 31 starts and tossing 189.1 IP for the A's in 2004. While his first stint with Oakland can be considered a success based on his overall numbers (36-19, 3.43 ERA from 2003-2008), he made just 32 starts in three injury-plagued seasons from 2005-07 and was eventually traded to the Cubs in July 2008. In 38 starts over 1 1/2 seasons with Chicago, Harden was 14-10 with a 3.31 ERA, earning him a $6.5MM deal with the Rangers in 2010. Things did not go well in Texas, however, as Harden missed time with a gluteal strain and put up mediocre numbers for the first time in his career. He was removed from the rotation in September and left off the postseason roster. The A's are hoping a return to Oakland will revitalize his career, although a return to the rotation is no sure thing. He will prepare to be a starter in Spring Training but is open to pitching out of the bullpen, where he could benefit from a lesser workload.   

Cramer: 31 years old, $425K salary 2010 stats: 2-1, 3.04 ERA, 23.2 IP, 20 H, 6 BB, 13 K in 4 starts 2011 Outlook: Underdog, More likely to provide Triple-A depth

The left-hander made quite a journey in 2010, making his big league debut shortly after finishing up an impressive stint with Quintana Roo of the Mexican League, where he was on loan from the A's. He was returned to the organization in August, posting a 1.94 ERA in seven Triple-A starts before getting the big league call in September. Cramer is unlikely to beat out Harden or McCarthy for the final rotation spot but he'll likely be first in line should the team need an extra starter at any point during the season. 

Ross: 23 years old, $425K salary 2010 stats: 1-4, 5.49 ERA, 39.1 IP, 39 H, 20 BB, 32 K in 26 games (2 starts) 2011 Outlook: Underdog, More likely to start season in Triple-A rotation

The prospect rankings have been released and Ross is the organization's top pitching prospect, according to Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus. The right-hander was actually on the team's Opening Day roster last season, making the jump from Double-A to the big league bullpen. After a three month stint with the team, he was optioned to Triple-A so he could continue his development as a starter. Ross was shut down after just six starts, however, because of a sprained elbow ligament. He'll be in big league camp again this year hoping to make the team as a starter this time around. With the big league rotation in good shape and plenty of solid candidates for the final spot, it is more likely that Ross heads back to Triple-A where he can gain some valuable experience before returning to Oakland. 

Outman: 26 years old, $425K salary 2009 stats: 4-1, 3.48 ERA, 67.1 IP, 53 H, 25 BB, 53 K in 14 games (12 starts) 2011 Outlook: Dark-horse candidate, More likely to start season in Triple-A rotation

Well on his way to establishing himself as a very good big league starting pitcher during the 2009 season, Outman was shut down with an elbow injury that eventually required Tommy John surgery. Now he'll need to re-establish himself during Spring Training, having not pitched in a game since June 2009. In all likelihood, the A's aren't going to throw him right back into the big leagues but a good month or two in the minors will put him back on the team's radar. 

Final Word

Harden and McCarthy are injury risks but the A's are counting on at least one of these guys staying healthy and solidifying the back of the rotation. If both manage to stay away from injury, I think McCarthy gets the spot in the rotation with Harden getting a shot out of the 'pen. Depth is important, especially for a team that used 10 different starting pitchers last year, so having Cramer, Ross, and Outman as options could end up being a big part of the team's success. 



Monitor Javier Vazquez, Ben Sheets

I actually thought I got a mild steal when I drafted Javier Vazquez in the middle of the 9th round in the RotoAuthority League, right after Brett Anderson and Chad Billingsley went off the board.  Obviously I was wrong, as Vazquez has been all sorts of terrible through five starts for the Yankees.  Walks, hits, and home runs are way up; velocity is down 2.2 mph.  You can blame New York, but I'm not in Javy's head.  You can blame the AL East, but he's only faced one good offense.  I tend to lean toward early-season rust, mechanical issues, a potential injury, and a dash of Javy being Javy.  I'm not cutting him, but it is time to bench Vazquez.  He's being dropped in many leagues, and should be a person of interest for you.  He won't be the 3.70 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 15 win, 193 K guy I expected/wanted in March, but 75% of that would be well worth rostering.

Ben Sheets was an 18th round pick, so it's been easier for his owners to cut him loose after six starts.  His numbers are a total mess - uncharacteristic walks, no strikeouts, lots of home runs and hits.  His fastball is down 1.5 mph from his last season, 2008.  If anyone is allowed to be rusty, it's Sheets after missing all of '09.  Sheets recently told Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle his problem is about location.  I'm curious to see if he rights the ship.  We could see the added bonus of Sheets being shipped to an NL contender if the A's fall out of contention in a few months.



Josh Outman Examined

Let's talk about Josh Outman, who ranks 7th in the AL with a 3.06 ERA (using 40 IP to qualify).  Outman's 1.19 WHIP ranks 14th.   Is he for real, or at least worth picking up?  More stats...

47 IP
8 GS
5.63 IP/start
3.06 ERA
4.72 xFIP
1.19 WHIP
1.44 Expected WHIP
7.66 K/9
4.02 BB/9
1.90 K/BB
6.70 H/9
.227 BABIP vs. .316 team BABIP
1.15 HR/9
11.8% HR/flyball rate
35.3% Groundball rate
2 wins
2.6 Expected Wins

Basically we are looking at a guy who's pitched more like a 4.72 ERA and a 1.44 WHIP.  It'd be pretty risky to expect otherwise.  Outman still needs to take a big step forward in control, and as a flyball pitcher he'll continue to allow HRs.  His super-low BABIP is unsustainable.

Scouting-wise, Outman is a 24 year-old southpaw who came to Oakland in last year's Joe Blanton trade.  He has only two Triple A starts under his belt.  Some like him as a reliever, as his fastball plays up to the mid-90s.  Baseball America notes decent secondary pitches and a deceptive delivery.  Who knows, maybe the delivery explains some of the BABIP.

I would not add Outman in a 12-team mixed league.  It seems that he is getting by mainly on not allowing hits and that is not a reliable formula for success.



Oakland Closer Situation

Nathan P. asks:

Has Oakland settled on a closer yet? I've got both Joey Devine and Brad Ziegler, but I only want to keep one of them. Please tell me they aren't going to share save opportunities.

Devine and Ziegler were originally penciled in to share closing duties.  However, Devine will be examined by Dr. James Andrews Wednesday or Thursday.  His sore elbow will keep him out at least three weeks.

MLB.com's Mychael Urban learned from A's manager Bob Geren that Santiago Casilla and Russ Springer could also see save opportunities.  But for now, Ziegler is the man.  If you own Devine, you might as well wait until the diagnosis before deciding what to do with him.

Ziegler is being drafted in the 18th round currently, so he'd be a nice bargain if other relievers don't chip away at his saves.  I have him down for a 3.58 ERA and 1.33 WHIP with a 5.2 K/9.





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