With the Oakland Athletics in the midst of a full-fledged rebuild, this isn’t the time to be making wild declarations about which players aren’t making the grade. We’ll have plenty of time for those discussions in the coming seasons as the roster begins to truly take shape. However, there are a couple of players that the A’s have been using as starting pitchers that could prove to be valuable bullpen arms down the line.
The arms that will battling for a spot in the rotation at the beginning of 2018 will consist of Sean Manaea, Kendall Graveman, Jharel Cotton, Paul Blackburn, Andrew Triggs, Daniel Gossett, Chris Bassitt, Daniel Mengden and Jesse Hahn. That’s nine players that most A’s fans are fairly familiar with, but the rotation will only consist of five guys. There is a chance that the front office goes after a veteran starter as they have in recent years to potentially use as a trade chip at the deadline. One thing that Oakland doesn’t have a lot of is moveable trade chips. Most of their players with value are ones they’ll look to hold onto for the duration of the rebuild.
With a crowded rotation in mind, it’s possible that Gossett and Mengden could be transitioned into the bullpen. To illustrate that point, here is a look at some of Gossett’s splits from this season, his first go-around in the big leagues.
Gossett’s ERA for the season hasn’t been great, but if you limit his exposure to opposing lineups then he’s actually been a rock star. His strikeout rate, which stands at 6.71 K/9 overall, is actually much closer to one an inning the first (and oddly enough the third) time through the order. What makes that rate take a dip is the eight punch-outs he’s earned in his 18 1/3 innings the second time through the order.
Gossett, 24, still has time to figure things out at the big-league level to avoid being banished to the bullpen. One key factor for him will be limiting the long balls that he’s giving up, 12 so far at a rate of 1.8 per nine innings, which is entirely too many. According to FanGraphs, half of those home runs have started with an 0-1 count, which is what every television announcer ever in the history of baseball states is the pitcher’s main objective in every at bat: get ahead of the hitter. If you take out just a couple of those home runs, he’s looking at at ERA that’s roughly a run lower than its current level.
For Mengden, also 24, this season has been one of many setbacks which began with a broken foot in February. He has tallied just 31.1 innings in Nashville this season while holding a 3.73 ERA, and made two starts for the A’s totaling eight innings with a 10.13 ERA. In each stop, Mengden has allowed four home runs. The Nashville rate could be passable, but the rate with Oakland needs improvement.
Here’s another table with some similarly striking splits, this time from 2016 to get a fuller look at what Mengden has to offer.
Similar to Gossett this season, Mengden tended to sail through the early innings last season before batters started figuring him out.
Of the two, Gossett has the better numbers and has been healthy this season, which could count for a lot, but Mengden has that odd delivery that can keep a batter’s timing off just enough to have an effective inning out of the ‘pen.
Ideally each of these two players will get to at least start next spring attempting to earn a spot in the rotation, if that’s where they’d like to stick. Assuming they do, they’ll presumably be given the opportunity to make it into the rotation until some of the highly ranked prospects behind them start making their climb up the organizational ladder.
A.J. Puk is in Double-A and holds a 4.91 ERA through 11 starts, but has struck out 68 batters in just 51.1 innings. Grant Holmes is another big name in that Midland rotation, though he has spent all of 2017 at the level while accruing a 4.85 ERA across 135.1 innings. The plan for both of the two starters could be to start them in Double-A next season, see how they perform, then move them up when they hit their stride. Or they could begin in Nashville. Given the slowed timetable for contention in Oakland, it’s likely that the organization takes its time in developing two of the arms they’ll be counting on to turn things around, which gives Gossett and Mengden some time to figure things out.
James Kaprielian, acquired in the Sonny Gray deal, is currently injured and will more than likely not be a huge factor in challenging The Daniels in the rotation next year. There was talk this spring that the righty could contend for a spot in the Yankee rotation in 2017, but following Tommy John surgery he’ll need to build up his arm strength after totaling 56 innings in three minor league seasons, and just under half of that total (27 IP) is from the Arizona Fall League last year.
With the talent train set to make regular stops in Oakland over the next few seasons, players are going to have to compete for their spot on the roster, or find new roles to achieve that goal. For Gossett and Mengden, a strong 2018 may be their best shot at carving out a role in the starting rotation. If the trends continue however, then the A’s would be wise to give them a shot in the bullpen where they could help shore up another area that could use some depth.
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