Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

A look at Oakland’s amazing 2012 season so far


Tommy Milone has made Oakland’s 2012 rotation surprisingly good. Photo AP/Ben Margot via

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 pages):

Name Age W L W-L% ERA G GS
Trevor Cahill 23 12 14 0.462 4.16 34 34
Gio Gonzalez* 25 16 12 0.571 3.12 32 32
Brandon McCarthy 27 9 9 0.5 3.32 25 25
Guillermo Moscoso 27 8 10 0.444 3.38 23 21
Rich Harden 29 4 4 0.5 5.12 15 15
Brett Anderson* 23 3 6 0.333 4 13 13
Josh Outman* 26 3 5 0.375 3.7 13 9
Tyson Ross 24 3 3 0.5 2.75 9 6
Graham Godfrey 26 1 2 0.333 3.96 5 4
Dallas Braden* 27 1 1 0.5 3 3 3

Here’s what happened to each of these guys (good link for trade details from 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:

Name Age W L W-L% ERA G GS
Tommy Milone* 25 9 8 0.529 3.68 21 21
Bartolo Colon 39 7 8 0.467 3.78 20 20
Jarrod Parker 23 7 5 0.583 3.44 18 18
Brandon McCarthy 28 6 3 0.667 2.54 12 12
Travis Blackley* 29 3 3 0.5 3.15 14 10
Tyson Ross 25 2 8 0.2 6.35 12 12
A.J. Griffin 24 3 0 1 2.51 7 7
Graham Godfrey 27 0 4 0 6.43 5 4

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.

9 Responses to 'A look at Oakland’s amazing 2012 season so far'

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  1. I told KLaw Milone would win 20 for Oakland … he just might … and I’ll be on him for that big miss … The A’s fans got pretty excited about him when I told them … now they know.


    2 Aug 12 at 5:02 pm

  2. When you make NL/AL adjustments, Milone’s ERA is a hair BETTER than Gio’s.
    Not saying the trade was bad, but Oakland got a ton back.

    Mark L

    2 Aug 12 at 5:09 pm

  3. Honestly, I think at this point it was a trade that neither team “won” or “lost,” but which helped get both teams closer to where they wanted to be. Nats (and Rizzo) got the power arm/closer to an Ace that he coveted and the A’s got one MLB ready starter, two close-to-the-majors guys plus one top-end prospect.

    Milone’s big problem is his home/away splits. I didn’t really get into them, b/c it wasn’t the point of the article really, but they’re pretty distinct. 1.51 era at home, 5.77 away. That’s crazy. Gonzalez? 3.17 at home, 3.34 away.

    Milone may very well win 20 games. Gonzalez may end up something like 15-10. But who would you rather have one for one? Gonzalez’ swing and miss capabilities (9.9 k/9 right now) and his shut-down stuff is what you need in october. Milone is less of a sure thing night to night; 8 shut out innings or is he giving up 5 runs in 5?

    The fact that Norris struggled, Peacock is struggling, and Cole laid an egg in high-A definitely is tilting the trade barometer towards the Nats…. but this is one of those trades that we’ll have to wait a few years to really pass judgement.

    Todd Boss

    2 Aug 12 at 5:16 pm

  4. You can’t discount the ballpark factor here either. Oakland is one of the best (if not the best) pitchers park in all of baseball. I think this helps guys on their staff (and subsequently hurts guys like Cahill who called Oakland home the last few years and now is pitching every fifth day in Arizona, hardly a pitcher’s paradise.) Speaking of Cahill, he’s actually put up better numbers this year than last, but not near his 2010 season.
    I always figured their pitching would keep them competitive but their offense is what I thought would lose them 100 games. Also watch out for Chris Carter, long-time A’s power-hitting 1B/OF prospect (so-called “AAAA player”) who looks like he might finally be “getting it” after several auditions in the show.


    2 Aug 12 at 5:33 pm

  5. Gio has always had good stuff, it’s his control that has always been an issue (hard to explain again as he’s pitched in that pitcher’s park in Oakland — just let them put the ball in play and let your defense do the work.) His career WHIP was well over 1.30 coming into this year and in 2012 it stands at 1.14. That’s mostly the reason for his improvement in my opinion.


    2 Aug 12 at 5:38 pm

  6. I have a draft post titled “Is Oakland’s park given too much credit” for being a Pitchers’ park, but I can’t really find park factor data that backs it up. If you look at right now, Oakland’s 1-yr park factors are 92 for both batters and pitchers, and their rolling 3-year average is 96 (again, for both). Problem is, those park factors for 3-yr averages were at 99 at the beginning of the season when I started writing the post. So I have a hard time trusting something that changes so radically from month to month. The common narrative among sportswriters seems to be that Oakland’s park gives pitchers a massive advantage, and I just don’t trust it. Milone’s home/away splits completely support it though…

    Todd Boss

    2 Aug 12 at 7:56 pm

  7. My theory on Gio; he’s growing up and has better coaching here. Steve McCatty preaches “pitching to contact,” which emphasizes pounding the zone and forcing batters to hit your pitch. The knock on Gio always was bb/9; but his bb/9 has trended down every year he’s had in the majors. 6.6/9 his rookie season to 4.1 his last year in Oakland, this year now he’s at 3.8. I think he’s maturing as a pitcher and realizing you can trust your stuff. His K/9 has risen the last three years, also indicating he’s getting to know his stuff. Absolutely he’s getting a break in the NL, getting lots of easy outs against pitchers plus generally going against the weaker lineups that are present in the NL. But inarguably he’s pitching better in 2012 than he ever has. My big worry with him is his slide; he had roughly a 2.00 ERA in first 10 starts, and roughly a 4.45 ERA in his last 11. Is it league adjustment? If so, he needs to re-re adjust in order for this team to continue its .600 winning percentage.

    Todd Boss

    2 Aug 12 at 8:00 pm

  8. Todd,

    I’m not an expert in Park Factor of pitching or hitting but I have seen a few games in Oakland including games that Gio has pitched.

    One of the first thing that hits you when you see the field is the large foul grounds, think RFK with the removable seats taken out. You might be able to look this up but I don’t think I’ve see a park with foul grounds that large. Chavez Ravine used to have big foul grounds but they remodeled it a few years back.

    Any way I have work that takes me out to the Bay area and when the Giants are not in town, which is an expensive ticket I go see the A’s because it’s cheap and I can sit not to far behind home plate. I’ve talked to the season ticket holders who sit there, really friendly fans, and they say that when Al Davis brought the Raiders back to Oakland and built the high center field stands that are in the outfield that the ball stopped carrying as well. I know it looks counter intuitive you would think it would block the wind by closing the horseshoe part of the stadium but maybe it has something to do with the bay. I say that because I’ve gone on the tour of AT&T park and they told us that the original design of the park was for home plate to face the city similar to PNC park in Pittsburgh but experts told them if they did that almost any ball hit in the air would be a home run so they turned it around. AT&T park is now one of the most difficult parks to hit a home run in.

    I guess you could check if there are more foul outs in Oakland that stat should be somewhere.


    4 Aug 12 at 1:00 pm

  9. The size of the foul grounds in Oakland is absolutely one of the major factors mentioned about the park; more foul balls become outs there than any other park. But id’ never heard about the high fences being a cause of the dynamics. has park factors going back years and years; i guess it could be easy enough to figure out when Davis did the modifications.

    Very interesting about the Giants stadium; i had never heard that. I’ll never be able to call it AT&T; it’ll always be Pacbell park for me.

    Todd Boss

    4 Aug 12 at 4:21 pm

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