By Jason Wojciechowski on February 9, 2012 at 10:25 PM
Tyson Ross, a big (6'6", 230 lbs) righty who was born in Berkeley, went to high school in Oakland, and pitched for three years at Berkeley (not Cal) before being drafted in the second round in 2008 just ahead of Tyler Ladendorf and Shane Peterson, both of whom are now RiverCats, oddly enough, pitched his second season with the A's in 2011.
Ross began the year in Sacramento, but was called up to Oakland on April 6th to pitch out of the bullpen when Michael Wuertz hit the Disabled List. When Dallas Braden hit The List himself twelve days later, Ross moved to the rotation, getting his first start on April 22nd. He threw a poor game against Seattle, walking four and striking out none in just 4 1/3 innings. His next four starts were quite nice: 26 2/3 innings, five runs, eighteen whiffs, and five walks. As you'd hope from a guy who pitches in Oakland and has a ground-ball rep, he allowed just one bomb.
Unfortunately, Ross faced just one batter in a May 19th start against Minnesota, and went on the D.L. with an oblique injury the next day. He didn't pitch again in Oakland the rest of the year. When he was activated in late July, he went down to Sacramento and finished the season there, pitching poorly, unfortunately: a nice strikeout rate (over eight) is ... well, nice, but nobody's going to get anywhere walking five batters per nine in AAA. Maybe he wasn't all the way back from his injury, but this is a guy with a career minor-league walk rate approaching four per nine, so it's not like this came out of nowhere.
Ross is one of those four-pitch pitchers with three pitches per side -- he goes fastball/sinker/slider against righties and fastball/sinker/change against lefties. As you can see here, his whiffs per swing for his slider and change were quite good in 2011. (I think -- averages and standard deviations still do not appear to be available at Brooks Baseball, so I'm not entirely sure, but in my eyeballing the stats of various pitchers, those numbers seem high.)
Bob Melvin has said that he sees Ross as a starting pitcher, so he should be in the mix for one of the last three spots in the rotation this spring. Brandon McCarthy and Bartolo Colon are the only locks, so there's probably about a five-man battle for the last three spots. (Although ultimately, it's a five-man battle for two spots because Dallas Braden should be back sooner rather than later.) Despite the team seeing him as a starter, I doubt they see him as a Jarrod Parker, where he'll be starting somewhere, either in Sacramento or Oakland. That is, we could see Ross begin the year in the bullpen by beating out Graham Godfrey or Ryan Cook for the last spot or two.
I don't see any reason Ross can't be a reasonably successful starter in the back end of a good rotation, and PECOTA seems to agree -- the weighted mean projection for him stands at a 4.45 ERA with what looks to be about 2/3 of his innings coming as a starter (i.e. he's not getting a huge boost from being considered a reliever). That's better than Jarrod Parker and Brad Peacock's projections, for what it's worth. I don't have access to Oliver and ZiPS hasn't been published for, so the only comparison point I have is CAIRO, which seems like it has a raison d'etre of being an upgraded Marcel, without doing fancy things like bending age curves based on comparables and suchlike. Anyway, CAIRO pegs him for a 4.67 ERA, so PECOTA is a little more optimistic, but when you're talking about projections, and you've got a system that says 4.45 and another that says 4.67, you're kind of just saying "well, he should have a mid-four ERA." (It also shouldn't surprise us that the projections are so similar given that PECOTA starts out the same way every system does -- look at old data and do a weighted average to get some new data.)