I’ll admit it; after watching Billy Beane wheel and deal this past off-season, trading away most of his starting rotation and letting most of his FA hitters walk, I was predicting a 55 win season for this team. They were banking on a proposed move to San Jose and I saw these moves as a purposeful bottoming out while playing out the string in Oakland, ahead of a lucrative move to the South Bay. Well, that move seems interminably stalled, and many pundits predicted a near record loss season for this team, especially considering the massive moves that the Angels had made, coupled with the 2-time defending AL champs Texas being in the same division.
Instead, they sit at 56-48 and if the season ended today, right now on August 2nd, the Oakland A’s and their $55M payroll (2nd lowest in the league by a couple hundred thousand dollars) would be the 2nd wild-card and would play the Los Angeles Angels, they of the $154M payroll (and counting, considering this was their opening day payroll and they’ve taken on with the Zack Greinke deal at the trade deadline).
How did this happen? Lets look at the evolution of the Starting Rotation, because what this group is doing is nothing short of amazing.
In 2011, the Oakland had 10 different guys start games for them. Here’s a quick summary (* indicates a left hander on baseball-reference.com pages):
Here’s what happened to each of these guys (good link for trade details from baseball-reference.com here; this link shows the latest trade between Oakland and all other teams but quickly shows all these 2011 deals listed here):
- Cahill traded to Arizona
- Gonzalez traded to Washington
- Moscoso traded to Colorado
- Harden left via free agency, and as far as I can tell he remains unsigned.
- Outman traded (with Moscoso) to Colorado.
- Anderson had Tommy John surgery in June of 2011 and is in the minors rehabbing now.
- Braden had shoulder surgery in April of 2011 and has not pitched since.
They traded or released the starters who made nearly 80% of their starts in 2011. That leaves 3 guys who had any MLB starts last year: Brandon McCarthy, Tyson Ross and Graham Godfrey, a total of 35 starts. To add insult to injury, Oakland traded their 2011 closer Andrew Bailey to Boston last December.
So, what does the Oakland rotation look like this year? Here’s the same data through August 1st:
So, where’d all these guys come from?
- Milone: acquired from Washington in the Gonzalez Deal
- Colon: bottom-of-the-barrel FA signing (1yr/$2M).
- Parker: acquired from Arizona in the Cahill deal.
- McCarthy; signed a 1yr/$4.275M FA deal after accepting arbitration from the team after last year
- Blackley: selected OFF WAIVERS from San Francisco earlier this year
- Ross: homegrown: a 2nd round pick in 2008
- Griffen: also homegrown; he was a 13th round draft pick by Oakland in 2010.
- Godfrey: acquired from Toronto in the 2007 Scutaro deal
Ross and Godfrey got demoted after poor performance, and McCarthy currently sits on the DL, giving Oakland this current rotation: Colon, Blackley, Griffen, Milone, Parker. All 5 guys with ERAs under 3.78 and all with ERA+ of at least 104 and mostly greater than that. And, when McCarthy comes back he’s essentially the best pitcher of any of them. AND, this is all being done with out Dalles Braden and Brett Anderson, two guys who were core components of the 2010 rotation and who would clearly be in the 2012 rotation if not for injury. AND, Oakland just announced today they’re promoting one of their best starter prospects in Dan Straily for a spot start this coming friday.
And, when Braden, Anderson and McCarthy come back, that gives Oakland a major surplus of pitching that can be flipped in the coming off-season for even more prospects and hitting (much as they did this past off-season).
Combine this pitching revolution with the schrewd Yoenis Cespedes signing (who immediately became the highest paid player on the team), the explosion of Josh Reddick (acquired in the Andrew Bailey deal from Boston), unexpected output from DH/FA signee (and ex-Nat) Jonny Gomes and a solid season from Seth Smith (acquired in the Moscoso deal) and you’ve got a team that is producing enough to win. They’re not an offensive juggernaut (mostly ranked 12th-13th in the 14-team AL in the major offensive categories) but you don’t need to score 8 runs a game when you have a staff ERA of 3.47.
As much as Moneyball critics will hate to hear it, I think Billy Beane is your easy choice for AL Executive of the year right now.