The A’s Rotation: Fifty Shades of Kazmir

According to WAR, the 2014 Oakland rotation was the tenth best staff in the league. But without 185 or so combined innings from Jon Lester and Jeff Samardzija, it’s going to be hard for them to repeat that feat. They brought in a few new faces, but for the most part, they’ll begin the year by filling the holes with internal options.

Despite the departed aces, the two guys who threw the most innings for the A’s last year, Scott Kazmir and Sonny Gray, will once again head the rotation. As far as mixed leagues go, these are your only fantasy relevant Oakland starters.

Of the two, Gray is more popular according to early ADP. According to the NFBC ADP, Gray is going 20th among starters, while Kazmir is going 62nd. But according to the Steamer rankings (which you can check out via our awesome auction calculator), Gray is being wildly overdrafted and Kazmir looks like a value. Gray comes in 60th in the Steamer rankings while Kazmir is 39th.

Let’s start with Gray. Steamer isn’t projecting a huge difference in his strikeout and walk skills, though there is a modest drop in his projected strikeout rate. But what hurts his fantasy ranking in the strikeout category is Steamer projecting him to throw 27 fewer innings than he did last year. That’s the big reason behind Steamer projecting 24 fewer strikeouts from Gray this year. But humans don’t agree with the decreased inning total. Our fan projections have Gray with just seven fewer innings, and Podhorzer has him throwing 14 fewer innings (get the 2015 Pod Projections here). The A’s did skip a start of Gray’s in June, but I’m not aware of any injury history to be concerned about. A projection of 200+ innings seems appropriate to me.

Aside from the innings, the biggest reason Steamer is down on Gray is serious regression projected for his ERA and WHIP thanks to serious regression projected for his batting average on balls in play and strand rate. Through 283 major league innings, Gray has a .277 BABIP and 74.6% strand rate, both comfortably better than average. Steamer has those numbers going back to average next year. But you can pretty easily make the argument that defense and ballpark help Oakland pitchers maintain better than average numbers in those categories. Since 2012, Oakland starters have the second lowest BABIP and fourth highest strand rate. It wouldn’t be a shock at all for Gray to remain better than average in those categories.

It occurred to me about 400 words into this that I’ve already written about Gray this offseason. I covered the strand rate/BABIP stuff as well as the strikeouts, but I forgot that his xK% was 18.7% last year. His actual strikeout rate was 20.4%, and Steamer is projecting 19.7%. Given that Gray finished last year as the 26th most valuable starter, it’s hard to say he should be going 20th among starters when his innings can only go down (even if they may not go down much), his strand rate and BABIP can’t really get better absent randomness (even if they might not necessarily regress), and his strikeout rate doesn’t appear to have any upside.

On the other hand, Kazmir finished as the 32nd most valuable starter. Steamer is giving him some credit for that with the ranking of 39, but drafters aren’t buying with an ADP of 60.

Steamer is projecting slight regression to Kazmir’s strikeout and walk rates but is still projecting above average rates. The slight regression in the rate stats leads to slight regression in ERA and WHIP, but nothing significant. It’s hard to find anything in his numbers from last year that looks like a red flag. If there’s one concern, it’s probably injuries. Both Steamer and our Fan projections have him throwing just a handful of innings fewer than he did last year. And when Chris Cwik looked at Kazmir earlier this offseason, he came to a similar conclusion.

If you believe a healthy Kazmir can provide borderline top 40 numbers, you have to draft him going around the 60th pitcher off the board. There’s value there, and the injury downside won’t hurt you much if you take him near the end of your draft.

Moving on to Oakland starters that could become relevant in AL-only leagues, Jesse Chavez and Drew Pomeranz have the projected innings totals to be worth a look in single league formats.

Steamer has Pomeranz as a borderline top 90 fantasy starter, and that’s where his ADP sits as well. He’s worth taking there because the projection says it’s an appropriate price, but it’s hard to find upside. His strikeout rate was a healthy 23% last year, but with an 8.3% swinging strike rate, Steamer’s projection of 20.8% doesn’t seem unreasonable. Pomeranz’s main problem is the lack of a third pitch. His fastball was a bit above average last year, and his curve was really good, but he’s just never gotten results with the change. Unless that changes, there’s probably no upside.

As for Chavez, Steamer also has him being a borderline top 90 fantasy starter, but his ADP among starters sits at 122. As Eno rightly pointed out in his FG+ profile of Chavez, the addition of a good cutter gives him another above average pitch to go along with his change. His other fastballs are average, and those three offerings are enough to offset a curve that’s not super effective. That decent arsenal along with passable velocity and passable command in his home ballpark and on that team make Chavez well better than the 122nd best fantasy starter, assuming he has a role as a starter.

As for the new names Oakland has added, they brought in Jesse Hahn from San Diego and Kendall Graveman from Toronto via trade. Graveman has all of 4.2 major league innings, and he posted well below average strikeout numbers in the minors, so leave him be unless he gets a shot at the back end of the rotation and does something with it.

But Hahn is definitely interesting. He posted a near-3.00 ERA in 70-ish innings with San Diego last year, though his SIERA was 3.73. He posted an above average strikeout rate of 22.3% with a 10.1% swinging strike rate, but his 10.5% walk rate hurt his SIERA and makes him a bit scary going forward. But it was encouraging to see that our pitch values had him with three above average offerings last year. It was a small sample, but encouraging nonetheless. If Hahn ends up with a spot in the rotation, he could cut it as fifth starter in an AL-only league.

Chris Bassitt and Sean Nolin are two more names the A’s brought in through trades. They’ve got more encouraging minor league numbers than Graveman, but they also have little major league experience and may be on the outside looking in at the start of the season.

And then of course there are A.J. Griffin and Jarrod Parker who figure to be returning from Tommy John surgeries at some point this season. Neither was dominant enough prior to injury to consider as a guy to draft and stash on the DL, especially since their returns aren’t reportedly imminent. But when the time comes, our waiver wire writers will alert you as to their potential relevance.

We hoped you liked reading The A’s Rotation: Fifty Shades of Kazmir by Brett Talley!

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You can find more of Brett's work on TheFantasyFix.com or follow him on Twitter @TheRealTAL.

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Chris Walker

Had us all faked out on the title.