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2017 Projected Rotation Preview: Oakland Athletics

The Athletics rotation is filled with potential and/or question marks.

Oakland Athletics v Seattle Mariners Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Yesterday, we took a look at the position players projected to make the Athletics’ Opening Day lineup. In short, it’s not pretty. Their pitching staff isn’t much better either. Their rotation is filled with youngsters who have some potential. If they all take a step forward, this could be a nasty rotation to deal with. But these young starters will have their fair share of ups and downs and the depth behind them isn’t very inspiring.

The rotation:

RHP Sonny Gray

Chicago Cubs v Oakland Athletics

2016 Stats: 117 IP, 5.69 ERA, 4.67 FIP, 0.7 fWAR
2017 Projections: 199 IP, 3.99 ERA, 3.89 FIP, 3.0 fWAR

Everything that could have gone wrong went wrong for Sonny Gray last year. He dealt with injuries to his right trapezius and his right forearm for much of the year, and when he was on the mound, he was a shell of his former self. It’s possible that mechanical issues were the root cause of both injuries which would also explain the drop in velocity and the drifting release points throughout the year. There hasn’t been much news about Gray’s health this offseason and the A’s are hoping that he’ll be able to figure out whatever mechanical issues led to these struggles. If he’s healthy, he’s the best pitcher on their staff.

LHP Sean Manaea

2016 Stats: 144 2/3 IP, 3.86 ERA, 4.08 FIP, 1.8 fWAR
2017 Projections: 185 IP, 4.01 ERA, 4.02 FIP, 2.5 fWAR

Sean Manaea made his major league debut in April last year and struggled to make an impact initially. In the second half of the season, he found his groove, improving his peripherals across the board. He lowered his ERA by two and a half runs in the second half and looked like the top prospect everyone expected. With just a three pitch repertoire, he’ll have to improve his secondary pitches to truly take a step forward. His slider is a nasty pitch that handcuffs left-handed batters but his changeup is merely average leading to a wide handedness split. If he’s able to close that gap, he’s the pitcher with the highest upside on the staff.

RHP Kendall Graveman

2016 Stats: 186 IP, 4.11 ERA, 4.39 FIP, 1.6 fWAR
2017 Projections: 181 IP, 4.48 ERA, 4.33 FIP, 1.7 fWAR

Kendall Graveman threw 186 uninspiring innings for the A’s last year. With all the injuries and trades throughout the year, he became their de facto ace, a role he’s certainly unsuited for. His heavy sinker will help him keep the ball on the ground but his inability to generate an average strikeout rate will always limit his upside. Allowing so much contact leaves much of his success up to the whims of batted ball luck. He managed to outperform both his FIP and xFIP last year but a poor turn in BABIP could spell doom.

RHP Jharel Cotton

Oakland Athletics v Kansas City Royals

2016 Stats: 29 1/3 IP, 2.15 ERA, 3.76 FIP, 0.7 fWAR
2017 Projections: 148 IP, 4.07 ERA, 4.01 FIP, 2.4 fWAR

An excellent changeup and good command helped Jharel Cotton post an elite 3.74 strikeout-to-walk ratio in the minors last year. He made his major league debut in September after being traded to Oakland in the Rich Hill-Josh Reddick deal. He allowed just four walks in almost 30 MLB innings and his strikeout rate was above average. His fly ball tendencies have caused him to struggle with the long ball throughout his career. His ability to limit baserunners will be key to mitigating the damage from all those home runs.

RHP Andrew Triggs

2016 Stats: 56 1/3 IP, 4.31 ERA, 3.20 FIP, 0.9 fWAR
2017 Projections: 143 IP, 4.33 ERA, 4.20 FIP, 1.5 fWAR

Andrew Triggs was a revelation for the Athletics in August. A long reliever prior to that point, he made four starts that month before being shut down with a back injury. But in those four starts, he ran an obscene 20.00 strikeout-to-walk ratio, a 2.91 ERA, and a 2.18 FIP. His unusual delivery provides a ton of deception and helps him generate some funky movement on his sinker and slider. He also added a nasty changeup to his repertoire when he joined the rotation and it could be the key to his success in 2017. He’s probably the biggest question mark in the rotation but he could provide solid value from the back of the rotation if the improvements he made in August stick.

The Depth

Outside of their top five, there’s not much in the way of hope. Daniel Mengden has excelled in the minors without great stuff and was able to put together a few good starts last year, but his MLB debut was generally underwhelming. He has a chance to be a solid back-end starter, but his upside is limited.

Lefty Dillon Overton has had success in the high minors as well thanks to a solid changeup, but he was crushed in his five starts last year and isn’t someone the A’s want to count on every five days.