A’s Starting Staff One of the Worst Postseason-Bound Rotations in Wild Card Era

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Take a look at the Oakland Athletics depth chart on MLB.com, in particular the starting rotation, because it’s equal parts hilarious and artistic. A starting pitching staff of Sean Manaea, Brett Anderson, Trevor Cahill, and Edwin Jackson should be that of a last-place team, as it resembles the staffs that rebuilding teams construct. Guess what — the A’s are currently a postseason team.

Oakland sits at 66-46, having won 32 of their past 42 games and passing the Seattle Mariners for the second Wild Card position in the American League. On June 10, the A’s were just over .500 and trailing Seattle by 7.5 games; over the past week, they caught and passed their AL West rivals and look poised to play in October. This really shouldn’t be the case, given that Oakland was projected by many — including ourselves — to finish last in the division.

Oakland’s hitting has been exceptional, their bullpen (particularly Blake Treinen) has been borderline unhittable, and third baseman Matt Chapman has been a revelation at the hot corner. It’s not because of their starting rotation that this club is a postseason team; Jackson is on his 13th team, Anderson and Cahill are on their second stints with the Oakland organization and each have a career losing record, and Manaea is a contact pitcher in an MLB that has trended away from that strategy.

Additionally, their opening day starter, Kendall Graveman, has not made a start since May 11 and is currently trapped in the A’s minor-league system because of his 1-5 record and 7.71 ERA in the bigs this season. This starting rotation is 16th in the majors in ERA (4.25), 12th in innings pitched (610.0), 17th in opponent’s batting average (.250), and dead last, 30th in Major League Baseball, in strikeouts (440). The starting rotation of the A’s has been, for a postseason team, historically awful.

The Oakland @Athletics rotation is among the worst rotations to be in the postseason picture in recent memory, writes @TomDorsa.Click To Tweet

They’re a middle-of-the-pack club by these stats, but for one of ten teams in the postseason (Oakland actually has the fourth-best winning percentage in MLB at .589), they are horrid. Pitching is everything in the playoffs, and while Oakland can make do without a lethal rotation for now, it’ll spell trouble in the playoffs, because this same blueprint has failed in grand fashion for other postseason ballclubs.

They should not be where they are, and on account of this, we wanted to look back in time and find out what the worst starting rotation to make the postseason is. So we did.

To be fair, we can only travel back to 2012, when MLB implemented the single-elimination Wild Card Game and ten teams — five in each league — qualified for postseason play. Given that the Athletics would not make the 2018 playoffs as the standings look now under the old system (three division champs, one wild card), there’s only so much we could do. But, we can still have some laughs.

Here are the worst rotations to qualify for the playoffs since the 2012 introduction of the Wild Card Game.

Minnesota Twins, 2017

Pitchers: Ervin Santana, Jose Berrios, Kyle Gibson, Bartolo Colon, Hector Santiago, Adalberto Mejia

Stats: 4.73 ERA, .270 opponent’s batting average, 1.4 WHIP, 7.08 K/9, 2.31 K per BB

The 2017 Twins fell in the Wild Card Game despite having their “ace,” Ervin Santana, on the hill at Yankee Stadium last fall. Given the results of the current season, with the Twins sitting at 51-58 and well outside of a playoff spot, it looks like they simply overachieved in 2017.

You might have a dissenting opinion, and that’s fine, but if Bartolo Colon is pitching meaningful games for your club down the stretch run, you might have a problem.

Colorado Rockies, 2017

Pitchers: Jon Gray, Tyler Chatwood, Kyle Freeland, Antonio Senzatela, German Marquez

Stats: 4.59 ERA, .272 opponent’s batting average, 1.4 WHIP, 7.32 K/9, 2.26 K per BB

Playing at Coors Field helps nobody in that Rockies rotation, but the 2017 Rockies had no starting pitching. None of those names really pop out as an ace (Cubs fans can tell you about Chatwood), and with that, Colorado bowed out in the National League Wild Card Game.

Nolan Arenado and Charlie Blackmon carried the Rockies to the postseason because their rotation certainly could not. That’s the case with the A’s this season, with Chapman, Khris Davis, and others.

Baltimore Orioles, 2016

Pitchers: Kevin Gausman, Chris Tillman, Yovani Gallardo, Dylan Bundy, Ubaldo Jimenez

Stats: 4.72 ERA, .266 opponent’s batting average, 1.41 WHIP, 7.54 K/9, 2.21 K per BB

The rundown is chronological, but if it were based on how bad the rotations were, this would top the list. The 2016 AL Wild Card Game, during which 54-save closer Zach Britton infamously never appeared, was less than two years ago, and just one of those starters is still with the Orioles.

Baltimore’s competitive window was somewhat similar to Detroit’s. The Tigers would have probably won the World Series at least once if they had built a decent bullpen, the same way the Orioles (with Manny Machado, Chris Davis, and other offensive dynamos) and their lack of good starting pitching. How many postseason series did the Orioles lose on their crappy rotation alone?

Texas Rangers, 2015

Pitchers: Cole Hamels, Martin Perez, Yovani Gallardo (again), Derek Holland, Colby Lewis

Stats: 4.32 ERA, .269 opponent’s batting average, 1.37 WHIP, 6.1 K/9, 2.08 K per BB

Unlike the other teams listed above, this club, somehow, played in a postseason series instead of being bounced in the Wild Card Game. Lewis, who is retired now, led the 2015 Rangers in wins with 17 despite a 4.66 ERA. Yovani Gallardo (4.1) was the only starter with more than two wins above replacement, and the only starter with an ERA under three and a half. This rotation was horrendous.

Jose Bautista‘s emphatic three-run home run and bat flip is what everyone remembers from the 2015 AL Divisional Series, but in hindsight, the Rangers were doomed with starting pitching like this.

The question going further is: how does the Athletics’ rotation stack up to these other miserable playoff teams from the past?

TEAMERAOPPONENT'S BA%WHIPK/9K per BB
2015 Texas Rangers4.32.2691.376.12.08
2016 Baltimore Orioles4.72.2661.417.542.21
2017 Colorado Rockies4.59.2721.407.322.26
2017 Minnesota Twins4.73.2701.407.082.31
2018 Oakland Athletics4.25.2501.246.492.57

Oakland … is not all that bad. Their ERA, opponent’s batting average, and WHIP are far superior to their previous postseason counterparts. They’re striking out way fewer hitters than normal, but on the fly, this is working. But for hilarity’s sake, let’s compare them to this season’s other four teams in the AL postseason picture and see just how much of an outlier the A’s starting staff has been.

TEAMERAOPPONENT'S BA%WHIPK/9K per BB
Houston Astros3.00.2121.0810.433.76
New York Yankees4.11.2411.248.812.98
Boston Red Sox3.49.2321.189.613.58
Cleveland Indians3.43.2391.159.314.22
Oakland Athletics4.25.2501.246.492.57

Oh god. The A’s starters are getting absolutely hammered by opposing hitters and they’re striking out way fewer batters than the four teams above them in the pecking order. These four teams are genuinely good baseball teams, whereas the Athletics have caught fire under the play of their otherworldly bullpen and great hitting while riding with a flawed rotation and just winging it.

However, that’s what makes this team fun: they truly do not belong here. They’re an underdog in a sport that limits parity and discourages small market teams from contending, and Oakland is making something happen with a low payroll and precisely zero expectations for success. Maybe their starting rotation is historically laughable and easily the worst in the AL postseason picture, but the beauty of the Athletics is that they aren’t pretty and they aren’t supposed to be.

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