Sports Outside the Beltway

Oakland’s Fifth Starter: ?

With Barry Zito now officially gone, there have been some rumblings about what the starting rotation for the A’s will look like next year. Of course, we’ve all known that Zito would be gone since about a year ago, but once again, Billy Beane had more foresight than the average fan (or average blogger, as it may be). He stockpiled starters like my grandma stockpiled boxes of macaroni and cheese before Y2K. Beane’s strategy appears that it will pay off, though. For my part, I’m still working on eating all of that mac and cheese…

The A’s hoarded Joe Kennedy, Chad Gaudin, Brad Halsey, Kirk Saarloos, and the big free agent signing, Esteban Loaiza. They seemed to have a wealth of number 4 and 5 type starters, and many assumed that they’d part with them at the trade deadline to fill in the holes for a playoff run.

To the surprise of many, Beane was silent in late July, and chose to keep his spare parts in the bullpen.

I’ll admit, I wasn’t completely thrilled with the amount of money Beane committed to Esteban Loaiza last offseason. Three years for $21 million seemed a bit… excessive.

Comparing that to the trucks of cash that have been delivered to the houses of pitchers this year, though, it begins to look more reasonable.

In April and May of 2006, as Loaiza was hitting 85 on the radar gun and topping 8.00 on the ERA charts, I was one of many to call for Loaiza to be unceremoniously dumped off of the Bay Bridge.

Of course, Loaiza redeemed himself after a stint on the DL with a phantom injury, and had a great end to the season.

The other starters were called upon when Rich Harden, who seems to get hurt quite a lot, shockingly went on the DL twice. Shane Komine and Jason Windsor were called up from AAA, and performed about as well as they were expected to. That is, they kept their ERA under 7.00 for 5+ innings a start.

So now that Zito, who never missed a start in his seven year career, is gone, there is a noticeable hole in the top end of the Oakland rotation.

Dan Haren has shown himself to be both talented and durable, so he would seemingly get the nod for the top slot over the enigmatic Rich Harden. If Harden can somehow, miraculously make 25+ starts in 2007 without making a trip to the DL with a strain of some sort, he can be penciled in as the number 2 man.

Loaiza showed that he’s not an average pitcher. He’s either above average in his starts, or below average. He gave up 5 or more runs in eight of his 26 starts, and gave up 2 or less in nine of 26. There wasn’t a whole lot of middle ground there. Hopefully the good Loaiza shows up more often than the poor one. He’s the #3 pitcher in this projected rotation.

Assuming Joe Blanton doesn’t get traded to the Mets for Beane-coveted OF Lastings Milledge, which doesn’t look likely at this time, he’s the number four pitcher. Blanton has been characterized as a control pitcher without much stuff, which sounds unfair, but the more I look at his peripheral stats, the more I believe it. He doesn’t particularly look like that style of pitcher on the mound, but when you strikeout as few as he does, while walking an average amount and giving up seemingly random amounts of runs, you begin to look like a young, not-yet-crafty Jamie Moyer type.

So this brings us to the five-spot. The front-runners seem to be Kirk Saarloos, Joe Kennedy, Chad Gaudin, Brad Halsey, Jason Windsor and Shane Komine. Which is to say, there are no front-runners, only possibilities.
Saarloos has the most recent experience starting, but he’s seen mediocre success based largely on… who knows what. He doesn’t throw hard, his best pitch is a sinker that is figured out by the 5th inning, and he strikes out batters at a rate so low it makes Joe Blanton look like Nolan Ryan. I see a future in the bullpen for the likable yet average Saarloos.

Joe Kennedy has been the Opening Day starter for two teams. Of course, they were the Rockies and Devil Rays, so that’s not really saying much. Kennedy has had a few problems staying healthy, and he seems to be fitting in the reliever role nicely. I don’t see him moving to the rotation, but he is a favorite of Beane’s, so you never know.

Chad Gaudin has great “stuff”. That’s not in question. Whether he can avoid walking as many as Barry Zito does every year is in doubt, though. If he can keep his BB/9 rate below 4, he’ll be dangerous. He’s my personal favorite to make the rotation out of Spring Training.

Brad Halsey is beginning to look like one of those great prospects that get traded a couple times, and then develop into an above average reliever. He’s been given chances to start in Arizona and Oakland, and hasn’t impressed people enough to keep a spot. As much as I’d like to see “Ballsy” Brad Halsey stay in the green and gold, I see in my crystal ball a year or so of relief appearances followed by his inclusion in a three-way trade at the trade deadline or winter meetings.

Jason Windsor, in his three starts, flashed the kind of talent that he’s supposed to have, but also was exposed as being an as-yet unready prospect. Perhaps he can make the rotation next year, after he’s fully and completely recovered from his brutal workload in the College World Series. He also still needs to gain the confidence in his pitches that someone who works the black of the strikezone needs to have.

Shane Komine has made a remarkable recovery from his Tommy John surgery, and for a pitcher that most consider a relief candidate, looks an awful lot like a starter. He might have the strikeout rate and pitch array to make it in the big leagues, but I think he needs at least a half season more in AAA to really get back into the groove.

So there you have it, my ideas for who will fill out Oakland’s rotation in 2007.

What’s that you say? I didn’t really clear things up that much? Ok, you got me. I thought the answer would sift out at the end of this process, but it certainly didn’t, at least not any more than some idea that Chad Gaudin might make a good starter.

As is the case with virtually every team, the last bits of the puzzle will have to be discovered during Spring Training. Look for a competition between Gaudin, Saarloos and Windsor this March. That’s what I would expect, although, knowing this team, there’s as much chance that we’re all wrong as there is that one of those players is the 5th starter.

Accounting for that possibility, I’ll make my backup projection Aaron Heilman. Hey, you never know…

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