A's position-by-position breakdown: Starting rotation

Who got better end of Anderson-Pomeranz trade?

A's position-by-position breakdown: Starting rotation
December 19, 2013, 6:15 pm
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Sonny Gray held opponents to a .214 batting average and struck out 9.42 batters per nine innings pitched last season. (USA TODAY IMAGES)

Programming note: Get up to date on all the latest offseason A’s news on the Hot Stove Show on CSN Bay Area -- which returns on Tuesday, Jan. 7 at 6:30 p.m.

The makeup of the Oakland A’s roster changes dramatically from season to season, but one constant endures: Quality starting pitching.

As we take inventory of the 2014 A’s with a series of position-by-position breakdowns, it only makes sense to begin with the rotation.

Oakland has finished in the American League’s top four in starters’ ERA each of the past four seasons. The back-to-back division champions, the pie-in-the-face celebrations … the foundation for all the good that’s transpired at the Coliseum over the past two years begins with the guys who take the mound to start every game.

The A’s are replacing a major piece from their rotation, as Bartolo Colon signed a two-year deal with the New York Mets after winning 28 games in green and gold from 2012-13. Brett Anderson, another important starter when he was healthy, was traded to Colorado during the winter meetings.

One high-profile starter has been added in Scott Kazmir, 29, who becomes not only the team’s highest-paid player but also the elder statesman on an otherwise young starting staff.

Here’s a deeper look at Oakland’s rotation.

STARRING CAST: Jarrod Parker, Sonny Gray and Kazmir headline this group and appear locks for three of the five spots. Parker, 25, came into his own last season, going 12-8 with a 3.97 ERA over 197 innings. He was the A’s best starter from May to August, setting an Oakland record with 19 consecutive starts without a loss. But he experienced arm fatigue during the A.L.D.S., and had the A’s gotten past Detroit in that series, his status for the Championship Series was up in the air. He got a precautionary MRI after the season that showed no structural damage. In an interview earlier this month, Parker said he gave himself extra rest before starting his offseason workouts, but that his throwing schedule would remain unchanged.

Gray, 24, showed front-of-the-rotation potential after making his major league debut in July. He held opponents to a .214 batting average and struck out 9.42 batters per nine innings pitched. Gray was sensational in a Game 2 win over Detroit in the postseason but struggled in Game 5 – a baptism by fire that’s sure to help him moving forward.

Kazmir, signed to a two-year $22 million contract, enjoyed a rebirth last season with Cleveland after spending most of 2011 and all of 2012 out of the majors as he struggled with serious mechanical issues in his delivery. The left-hander showed flashes last season of the pitcher who led the A.L. in strikeouts back in 2007. Kazmir’s fastball was back in the low- to mid-90s, and if he can combine that with his nasty slider and improving changeup, the A’s will have something. But was last season enough to prove Kazmir is truly back?

CAMP COMPETITION: A.J. Griffin and Dan Straily have to be considered the front runners for the final two starting spots. But it speaks to the depth of Oakland’s rotation that a pitcher with Griffin’s credentials isn’t even guaranteed anything. He won 14 games last season – second on the club to Colon’s 18 -- and ranked fifth among A.L. starters in opponents’ batting average (.226). But factor in lefty Tommy Milone and newcomers Josh Lindblom and Drew Pomeranz, and strong Cactus League showings can vault any of them into rotation consideration.

One major league scout said he’s impressed with the number of quality starters Oakland is equipped with.

“I’m not sure how many innings-eaters they’ve got in there, but there’s plenty of depth to run out more than five starters over the course of the year,” the scout said.

Straily made a statement last season, cracking the 10-win mark with a 3.96 ERA over five separate stints with the big club. He finished fourth in the A.L. Rookie of the Year race. Milone was demoted to the minors in August and was left off the postseason roster, but he’s won 25 games for Oakland over the past two seasons.

PAY ATTENTION TO: Pomeranz, the former top-five draft pick who came over from Colorado in the Anderson trade. The 6-foot-5 lefty has posted a 5.20 ERA over parts of three major league seasons, but if pitching coach Curt Young can help Pomeranz harness his command, he figures to crack this rotation before long. Cactus League games will provide a good barometer on how close (or far) the 25-year-old is from being a factor.

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