By Jason Wojciechowski on June 5, 2015 at 3:02 PM

In his eighth season in professional baseball, Pat Venditte has finally received a call to the majors. The only pitcher who requires a special notation on his Baseball Reference page

will pitch out of the A's bullpen after the team finally tired of The Dan Otero Show:

Year ERA G IP H R HR BB SO HBP BF ERA+ FIP
2015 6.29 23 24.1 31 17 4 5 16 1 106 62 4.68
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/5/2015.

That's ugly. Given that he has options, it made sense that he'd go as soon as the A's decided he wasn't going to turn things around in the majors any time soon. By the way, it never dawned on me that Otero had options, but in retrospect, it's obvious:

Year Action
2011-12 offseason Contract purchased by Giants
2012 Optioned by Giants
2013 Waived by Giants, claimed by Yankees
2013 DFA'd and waived by Yankees, claimed by A's
2013 Optioned by the A's
Seven days later, 2013 DFA'd and outrighted by A's
2013 Added back to the 40-man by A's
2014 Spends entire year in the majors

Otero has only been optioned once in his career, because the optional assignment in 2013 was shorter than 20 days, which means he's still going to be optionable even come 2016 (unless another rule besides the basic three-options comes into play).

In any event, Otero heads out and the A's, rather than calling up Ryan Cook or R.J. Alvarez or Chris Bassitt (or waiting ten days and calling up Arnold Leon or Angel Castro), chose to reward the long-suffering pitcher everyone suspects of being a gimmick, but who, at 30, has given up just one homer in 33 PCL innings while striking out a batter per inning. His hit rate is a little crazy (just 19 knocks all year), but even putting that aside, he's pitched well enough for the A's to take a look and see whether his extremely underwhelming stuff will work in the majors.


Meanwhile, what the hell is the deal with Otero? I spent a number of minutes scrolling through his PITCHf/x data at Brooks Baseball, 2013-14 in one tab and 2015 in another, and I've got nothing. He added a cutter this year, but in terms of percentage usage it's basically eaten into his slider, not his sinker. The sinker is a half-tick slower than it's been, and has about half an inch less drop than it did. Maybe it's that. Maybe that's what it adds up to. The groundball rate on the sinker has fallen from 61 percent to 54, but Otero has had a total of 52 balls in play on the pitch this year. Seven percentage points means four grounders converted to balls in the air. That's one every eight innings. Margins for pitchers are thin, sure, but a lost grounder every eight innings by itself triple a man's ERA.

By the way, if you want statistical backup for the idea your eyes tell you that it isn't just bad ball-in-play luck for Otero this year: he has a 7.04 DRA, 511th out of 544 pitchers in the league, compared to 3.08 last year, which was a top-100 mark out of 692.


Drew Pomeranz is back, by the way. He'll pitch out of the bullpen because Kendall Graveman has been fine in his return from exile to Nashville. Pomeranz threw last night. Okay.

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By Jason Wojciechowski on June 1, 2015 at 9:33 PM

A loyal reader asks:

How much longer do we have Sonny before he rides off to a new team and contract, providing he's not traded for some over the hill DH and prospects?

The straightforward answer is that Gray currently has one year, 61 days of service time. He can be a free agent, assuming he signs no extension between now and then, after the 2019 season, i.e. he's got four more years in green and gold after this one.

But the provisos and assumptions! In all the range of outcomes of Sonny Gray's career from here on out in terms of off-the-field, contract, business stuff, I think him becoming a free agent after 2019 with the A's is probably the least likely. The most likely is that he's traded at some point, maybe as early as the 2016-17 offseason, maybe the 2017-18. He's still a minimum-salary player this year and next, so unless the A's see something in him physically (a/k/a quasi-medically) that makes them think he's headed for a cliff, I'd assume they'll keep him around through 2016. After that, the money situation, especially as good as he's been through the first 357 innings of his career, might mean he's headed out to collect someone else's arbitration payday.

The other end of that spectrum is that maybe Lew Wolff ponies up enough of John Fisher's money to let Billy Beane sign Gray to one of those youngster deals buying out his arbitration seasons and maybe a free agent year, maybe with some options on the end, maybe not. These are neat! These are all the rage! These are what Sean Doolittle signed in April last year, less than 12 months before his shoulder started aching and we all started wondering whether we've already seen the beginning, middle, and end of his career.

Because pitchers, man! Pitchers. And the A's have ridden Gray pretty hard, given that it's 2015 and he's, uh, a smidge undersized for a starting pitcher and also he's 25. The 219 innings he threw last year at 24 is both rare these days and reserved for the very best pitchers in the sport:

Rk Player IP Year Age Tm
1 Felix Hernandez 249.2 2010 24 SEA
2 Clayton Kershaw 236.0 2013 25 LAD
3 Felix Hernandez 233.2 2011 25 SEA
4 Clayton Kershaw 233.1 2011 23 LAD
5 Clayton Kershaw 227.2 2012 24 LAD
6 David Price 224.1 2011 25 TBR
7 Matt Cain 223.1 2010 25 SFG
8 Daniel Hudson 222.0 2011 24 ARI
9 Julio Teheran 221.0 2014 23 ATL
10 Sonny Gray 219.0 2014 24 OAK
11 Madison Bumgarner 217.1 2014 24 SFG
12 Stephen Strasburg 215.0 2014 25 WSN
13 Chris Sale 214.1 2013 24 CHW
14 John Danks 213.0 2010 25 CHW
15 Mat Latos 210.2 2013 25 CIN
16 Ricky Romero 210.0 2010 25 TOR
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 6/1/2015.

That's pitchers with at least 210 innings in a season, 2010-14, at age 25 or younger. We're looking at three a year, and its only been done by 12 individual pitchers other than Gray in that span. I will forgive you for noticing and dwelling on the alarming names (Romero, Latos, Strasburg, Teheran, Hudson, Cain) rather than focusing on those top five slots.

So where does this point? Do the A's think they have an all-timer on their hands, a Felixian pitcher who can stand up to the workload and do it damn well? Or are they riding what they've got while they've got it and they'll pass the endgame off on someone else, in not-unLatosian fashion now that you mention it. I'd like to think Beane and crew aren't so cynical, that Beane has a healthier respect for the humanity of his players than this narrative would give him credit for, but, like, did you see what Farhan Zaidi just helped do down in Los Angeles? Juan Uribe! The Uribear! Exiled to Atlanta! This is wrong and incorrect and bad and no good, and outside of Beane's ballyhooed friendship with Eric Chavez, we have little reason to think he's taking much account of human happiness up on his throne, moving the little tanks around his battle map.

If that's pessimistic, well, so be it. We're A's fans. We've earned it.

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By Jason Wojciechowski on May 30, 2015 at 2:32 PM

Awful news for Sean Doolittle and for the A's, as he's headed back to the disabled list, with the official listing being "strained shoulder," but the unspoken terror in all fans' minds being "he was never healthy in the first place and now he's going to need surgery and we're not going to see him again until late 2016, if ever."

Things would feel bad enough if Doolittle had come back from his initial injury throwing his usual 94 mph heat, blowing dudes away and roaring like a weird ginger-bearded bull. But he did not. He came back throwing barely 90. Like, on occasion touching 90 is what we're talking about here. We made noise about how it'd make him a better pitcher because he'd have to finally really work on his changeup and/or slider, and we mumbled about how his deception was still the same, and we pointed at the high point from which he was starting and convinced ourselves that even if he lost some percentage of his effectiveness, even if this turned him into something other than a top-ten reliever, he'd still be a valuable pitcher, an ace setup man or something, since you've only got to be around the 40th-best reliever in baseball to be an ace setup man.

And here we are. One game. One inning. Ice-blue radar gun readings. And a return trip to the disabled list.

Baseball isn't fair.


At least Angel Castro gets something out of the whole mess, though, as he's being recalled to take Doolittle's spot. He should only last as long as it takes Edward Mujica or Eric O'Flaherty to get healthy, and the first of those two to return should be back in a week or so.

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By Jason Wojciechowski on May 26, 2015 at 8:25 PM

Finally! Sean Doolittle has come back! To Oakland!

Okay, frankly, he's not the most Maivian player on the A's (that, with all due respect to Josh Reddick, is probably Brett Lawrie), but it's good to have the A's ace reliever back on the squad. In case you've been under a rock, what he's done over the last three seasons:

ERA G SV IP H R HR BB SO HBP BF ERA+ FIP
2.97 175 25 179.0 131 61 12 32 209 2 693 130 2.20
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/26/2015.

He strikes everyone out, never walks anybody, doesn't give up homers, and just generally pitches like an ace reliever. Here, you want a cool list?

Rk Player FIP IP
1 Craig Kimbrel 1.52 191.1
2 Aroldis Chapman 1.67 189.1
3 Greg Holland 1.83 196.1
4 Kenley Jansen 2.09 207.0
5 Sean Doolittle 2.20 179.0
6 Jake McGee 2.31 189.1
7 Koji Uehara 2.32 174.2
8 Matt Harvey 2.33 237.2
9 Andrew Miller 2.37 133.1
10 Clayton Kershaw 2.39 662.0
11 Danny Farquhar 2.42 126.2
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/26/2015.

That, friends, is a list of all pitchers with at least 100 innings pitched and at most a 2.50 FIP from 2012-14. It is, in other words, a cool list. As I promised.

There are some reasons to worry about Doolittle's return. Specifically, his velocity, which normally goes like this:

Word on the street is that he's more in the 90 range in his rehab. Everyone loses velocity over time, and you use the tactics at your disposal to make up for it. Not everyone, however, loses 5 mph overnight. Doolittle hasn't sounded worried in his quotes, and thinks the velocity will come with more work; he also believes that his movement and deception are still there. I'm always less optimistic than ... well, than basically anybody, but I certainly hope he's right on all fronts and that he's back to the 95 mph beast we've come to know and love.


Angel Castro heads out to Nashville to make room for Doolittle. He threw three innings for the A's in his stint, walking three, striking out three, and giving up one homer. Also five other hits. This all added up to just one run, but that's not a distinguished run of work overall, which isn't surprising given his pedigree and past minor-league work, though it is, of course, a bit sad. He's on the 40-man roster now, so the money he'll get in the minors is a lot better than what he'd get otherwise, and as a human matter, I hope that 40-man roster slot means he gets a few more shots to throw some major-league pitches before it's all over, but we shouldn't expect much. That's baseball, tragically enough.

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By Jason Wojciechowski on May 23, 2015 at 4:42 PM

Yesterday, I made some noises about how Andy Parrino would get sent back to Triple-A when Kendall Graveman came up to start today's game against the Rays. That was dumb. I was an idiot. (This isn't news to you.) I knew Coco Crisp was going on the DL. I knew the A's needed a roster spot for Graveman. This is called math: 1 + 1 = Coco Crisp.

Anyway, putting aside my dumbassery, the effect of Crisp's absence on the team is more about not-adding than subtracting. He managed two weeks' worth of games before heading back to the DL, and he didn't hit at all (.044/.173/.067), so returning to a Fuld/Gentry - Burns - Reddick outfield is, mentally, more of a return to the new normal than it is a "what will the A's do now?!" That's not to say it doesn't hurt the team, because a healthy Crisp is better than Cram Fultry, and it would be a nice luxury to have Saig Genuld, capable of playing all three outfield spots and occasionally doing something halfway positive at the plate, in a reserve role.

One hopes we're not looking at the end of Crisp's career. Word is he's not having surgery on his neck because to do so would mean the end of his career, so he'll instead rehab and rest and muddle through the best he can. It's been a fun ride with the A's, a late-career semi-renaissance during which he's generally played good defense in center field (+28 Total Zone runs from 2010 to 2013 before falling off the face of the earth in 2014; +15 FRAA over the same period) and hit well enough to make that defense something of a luxury (105 OPS+ from 2010 to 2014) while running the bases with controlled abandon (160 steals to 26 caught; +17 Baserunning Runs by Baseball Prospectus), all while a "3" was the first digit of his age. Sure, he hasn't been healthy (118 games played per year, with a high of 136), but the A's knew that going in -- it's why they initially got him for less than $11 million over two years and the re-signed him for three more years at rates that undersold his per-inning talent.

Now, in the first year of what seems likely to be a two-year extension (he'll need 550 PA or 130 games played in 2016 to vest the 2017 option; after this season, he'll have reached those figures twice in six years and just five times over his full career), the injuries may have caught up and pushed his total contributions to the point where you rue the money and roster spot committed to him.

Hopefully this is overreaction borne from sadness at seeing him headed back to the disabled list so soon after he got to the team in the first place, but it's where the mind tends to go when examining the arc of Crisp's career.

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