Player Profiles 2020: Oakland Athletics Starting Pitchers

Michael Ajeto analyzes the Oakland Athletics rotation for 2020 with in-depth player profiles.

Throughout the winter months of the offseason, the Pitcher List staff will be creating profiles for every fantasy-relevant player for 2020. Players will be broken up by team and role through starting pitchers, bullpen, lineup, and prospects. You can access every article as it comes out in our Player Profiles 2020 hub here.

 

Athletics At A Glance

 

The Athletics have an incredibly odd group. Mike Fiers just posted an ERA well above-average for the second year in a row, despite shaky peripherals. Sean Manaea remains a starter with potential, but continues to have subpar strikeout percentages, relative to the number of bats he misses. Frankie Montas and Chris Bassitt had themselves something resembling breakout years, to varying degrees. And then you have Jesus Luzardo and A.J. Puk, who have tons of upside, with Luzardo getting the edge. This is the most Oakland Athletics rotation ever. They’re just missing Mike Leake.

 

 

Mike FiersLocked Starter

Nickname: The Arsonist

 

2019 In Review

How does he keep doing it? Fiers posted a 3.90 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, and 16.7% K rate that strongly resembles his 2018 campaign. Both years relied on a low BABIP, so it remains to be seen if he can do it again, but he’s done it two years in a row now.

 

Fastball (52% usage)

Since 2018, Fiers has a lower wOBAcon on both his four-seam fastball and sinker in comparison to their xwOBAcon. While his sinker generally has pretty friendly batted-ball numbers, his wOBAcon came out of nowhere on his four-seam fastball. So, while his sinker appears to be in the clear, the fastball seems like a clear candidate for regression. Its .259 BABIP in the past two years is much lower than its .297 BABIP since 2015, and there’s nothing to suggest that it should have gotten much better — its hard-hit percentage and barrel rate have remained constant, and so has its swinging-strike percentage. It is interesting to note, though, that Fiers has had an elevated pop-up percentage of 13 in the past two seasons. This is somewhat intuitive, as Fiers grades out well in active spin, and so hitters likely get under his fastball a lot when it’s up in the zone.

This doesn’t change the fact, though, that his wOBAcon is much lower than his xwOBAcon, though, so it’s safest to bet on its BABIP and wOBAcon drifting toward their career averages.

 

Slider (18% usage)

Although designated as a cutter on FanGraphs, it’s more of a slider by velocity and active spin. Fiers had a cutter and slider up until 2017, but then decided to split the difference with his current slutter. In any case, it’s been okay in terms of batted balls and gets about as many swinging strikes as his fastball. It got hit around quite a bit in 2018, but was one of his better pitches in 2019 — he did a much better job of not pitching it out over the plate. If he continues to spot it where he wants to, it should be a solid pitch once again in 2020.

 

Curveball (17% usage)

For whatever reason, Fiers’ curveball jumped from a career 28.3% O-Swing rate and 10.4 swinging-strike percentage to 36.3% and 13.0, respectively, in 2019. As far as I can tell, it seems like he did a better job of pitching it just below the zone — at least, better than he did in previous years. So that’s good.

What’s not good is that his .239 wOBAcon and .294 xwOBAcon since 2018 aren’t very sustainable, so it was underperforming on batted balls, which is perhaps not surprising, given his curveball’s .232 BABIP. It’s one of those huge, slow, loopy curveballs that I’m not a fan of, but its spin rate is quite solid, giving it a lot of snap and late movement.

 

Changeup (13% usage)

Historically his best pitch, Fiers’ changeup went by the wayside in 2019 — he used it the least that he has since 2014. Relative to his fastball, his changeup does a great job of separating itself both horizontally and vertically, so I’m a little surprised it hasn’t been better in the past few years — it’s been a quasi-Money Pitch over his career — but it wasn’t good at all last year.

 

2020 Outlook

Fiers has some personal conduct issues that may keep him off the field in 2020, but that’s not for certain. I’m expecting some regression for him, as I can’t see him continuing to defy the BABIP gods. It’s time for the pendulum to swing back with a 4.70 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, and 17% K rate.

 

Realistic worst-case projection: 4.80 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 16% K rate in 150 IP

Realistic best-case projection: 3.80 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 20% K rate in 190 IP

 

Nick’s reluctant Mike Fiers 2020 projection:

4.30 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 17% K rate in 170 IP

 

 

Sean ManaeaLocked Starter

Nickname: Baby Giraffe

 

2019 In Review

Manaea got back on track with a 2019 that was more of what we expected of him after a down 2018. His BABIP was exceptionally low, but he took a step forward in several metrics, including FIP, xFIP, SIERA, and K%, but notably not his swinging-strike percentage.

 

Fastball (45% usage)

The bad? Manaea has continued his descent in fastball velocity, which has been progressively happening since 2016 — he’s lost about three ticks at this point. It may surprise, you, then, that Manaea dropped down in his delivery by a little more than two and a half inches. The result was a fastball with more arm-side run than is typical for him, but the same amount of sink. He also elevated the ball far more often, and all of (or one of) these changes spurred a career-high 9.2 swinging-strike percentage, much higher than his career 6.6% swinging-strike mark. He threw it in the zone far less, and if you look at his heat maps, he did a much better job of staying away from the middle of the plate.

Manaea had a criminally low .215 wOBAcon, especially relative to his .324 xwOBAcon, although that was also low. Unsurprisingly, his .152 BABIP was incredibly low as well. His fastball will regress in terms of wOBAcon — we’re only dealing with 48 batted balls — but I’m interested to see if the swinging strikes and new arm slot remain intact.

 

Slider (22% usage)

There’s not much to report here, considering he threw just 95 sliders in five games (29.2 innings), but there was nothing out of the ordinary going on with it. It’s the lesser of his two secondaries, but it’s great, as its career 40.2% O-Swing rate, 33.6% zone rate, and 17.9 swinging-strike percentage fall short in just zone rate to qualify as a Money Pitch. It’s notable that he raised its average vertical location and threw it in the zone more, but it’s unclear whether that trend would have continued with more pitches thrown.

 

Changeup (15% usage)

Manaea’s changeup is sick. He threw just 67 in 2019, but, like his slider, it was just as dominant as it generally is. What’s interesting to me is that, since he took two inches of horizontal movement off his heater, his fastball and changeup have the same horizontal movement now. He also used this more at the bottom of the zone than he has tended to in the past — significantly raising its average vertical location as well. I’m not sure if this is better, or worse. It’s just different.

 

2020 Outlook

To me, Manaea is what Andrew Heaney would be if he had a bad sinker. I’ll be paying attention to see if his fastball has legitimately improved, in terms of whiffs, because that’s how Manaea is going to realize his potential. If not, we should expect more of the same numbers he put up in 2016 and 2017. I’ll take a light buy-in here and say I expect a 4.10 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, and 23% K rate.

 

Realistic worst case projection: 4.30 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 20% K rate in 150 IP

Realistic best-case projection: 3.30 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 25% K rate in 180 IP

 

Nick’s reluctant Sean Manaea 2020 projection:

3.80 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 21% K rate in 170 IP

 

 

Frankie MontasLocked Starter

Nickname: The Hotdog

 

2019 In Review

Between 2018 and 2019, Montas bumped his K% up from 15.2% to 26.1% and reduced his BB% from 7.4% to 5.8%. The end result was a 2.63 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, and 20.3 K-BB%. His season was cut short due to a PED suspension, but the changes he made were unrelated, so it’s reasonable to believe in the year Montas posted.

 

Fastball (57% usage)

Montas sits about 96 mph with his sinker and 97 mph with his four-seam fastball. With an 87.9 contact percentage and 5.9% swinging-strike rate, Montas’ sinker doesn’t miss many bats. Hitters were fortunate against his sinker, with a .396 xwOBAcon and .349 BABIP on just a 3.7% barrel rate. Perhaps, then, we can expect some better fortune for his sinker in 2020.

As for his four-seamer: It misses more bats (8.9% swinging-strike rate), but there’s a trade-off, as it’s a much more prone to fly balls, thus leading to more home runs. It … sort of gets whiffs up, but the sample isn’t very substantial, considering he uses his sinker as his main fastball.

At the very least, Montas’ sinker is good enough that it shouldn’t get destroyed, considering he has Noah Syndergaard-esque velocity, with additional arm-side run. The downside is this could limit his strikeout potential since more of his balls get put in play.

His active spin on his fastball went up significantly from 2018 to 2019, which is interesting. Just something to note and keep an eye on.

 

Slider (25% usage)

Montas located his slider frequently at the bottom corner of the strike zone, and it served him well with a 10.3 pVAL, as well as a 33.3% O-Swing rate, 41.6 zone percentage, and 14.8% swinging-strike rate.

On the other hand, there are some warning signs. His .246 BABIP on his slider is awfully low, as is its .277 xwOBAcon. Considering it has a high pVAL without an elite swinging-strike rate, perhaps we should not be surprised. He would probably benefit from throwing a few more just out of the zone, but that’s much easier said than done. Without any impending changes, Montas’ slider looks like a pitch awaiting regression.

 

Splitter (18% usage)

Now this is the pitch that made Montas the pitcher he was in 2019. The good fortune with his slider helped, as adding a splitter gave him two secondaries with swing-and-miss potential. It netted him a 45.7% O-Swing rate, 30.9% zone rate, and 21.3 swinging-strike percentage. His splitter usage peaked at 23.8%, in terms of game-by-game usage, so we shouldn’t expect him to throw it that much more than he already does — but it would be nice.

For splitters, the league-average BABIP is .267, while the league-average wOBAcon is .321. Montas put up a .244 BABIP and .309 wOBAcon, so while he wasn’t all that fortunate by wOBAcon standards, he was by BABIP. Nothing super out of the ordinary here, but he was more fortunate than unfortunate.

 

2020 Outlook

If you ask me, Montas’ slider is going to have to do the legwork for him. There are examples of starters who throw their splitters about 32.5% of the time, but I don’t envision Montas bumping its usage that drastically. Although, I should say it’s a new pitch, so as he continues to gain comfort throwing it, it could happen. Regardless, I really like Montas. I’m seeing a 3.70 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, and 25% K rate.

 

Realistic worst-case projection: 4.10 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 20% K rate in 150 IP

Realistic best-case projection: 3.00 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 27% K rate in 190 IP

 

Nick’s reluctant Frankie Montas 2020 projection:

3.50 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 25% K rate in 180 IP

 

 

Jesus LuzardoLocked Starter

Nickname: Jesus Lizard

 

2019 In Review

The only looks we got of Luzardo were six games out of the bullpen, but he was nasty. He flashed a couple plus pitches and good velocity from a lefty — although that will likely go down a tick or two as a starter. Regardless, Luzardo looked as advertised.

 

Fastball (48% usage)

Albeit a tiny sample, you don’t need much of one to measure spin rate and active spin rate. Luzardo is in good company with an 88.1% active spin rate, which translates to a fastball that ranks in the 77th percentile in rise, per QOP Baseball. This will shrink as he moves to the rotation, but his fastball netted an 11.4% swinging-strike rate in relief. His command is good, too, so it’s hard not to have heart eyes for Luzardo. It’s notable, though, that he’s a short-strider, so his velocity is probably much better than his perceived velocity.

 

Curveball (30% usage)

Luzardo has an incredible breaking ball. It’s an 84 mph that’s pretty slurvy, and he uses it to back-foot righties and throw off the plate and away from lefties. It’s said to be the more advanced pitch between this and his changeup — especially considering he will vary the speed and shape of it at times. In his cup of coffee, his breaking ball returned a 44.4% O-Swing rate and 24.5 swinging-strike percentage, although those numbers are both certainly subject to change.

 

Changeup (21% usage)

Luzardo’s changeup gives him a shot for three plus offerings. It was a Money Pitch, but with 35 pitches thrown, it’s hardly worth mentioning. In any case, I love his slow ball. It has more than 10 mph of separation from his fastball, as well as good horizontal and vertical separation. He uses it against both lefties and righties, which is not only important that he has three pitches against both lefties and righties, but it also shows how good of a pitch it is.

 

2020 Outlook

It’s not yet clear to me how the Athletics are going to play their rotation. They should probably run out a six-man rotation, but so far that doesn’t appear to be the case. Luzardo has everything you could want out of a stud pitching prospect. I’m just going to let Nick give you his prediction below. I hate trying to projestimate rookies.

 

Realistic worst-case projection: 3.90 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 24% K rate in 120 IP

Realistic best-case projection: 3.30 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 30% K rate in 160 IP

 

Nick’s reluctant Jesus Luzardo 2020 projection:

3.50 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 27% K rate in 140 IP

 

 

Chris BassittLocked Starter

Nickname: The Hound

 

2019 In Review

Like Montas, Bassitt increased his K% from 20.1% to 23.0%, and reduced his BB% from 9.3% from 7.7% from 2018 to 2019. Some of it is real, and some of it is fueled by his 2.67 BABIP. for example. Nevertheless, Bassitt had his longest season ever at 33 years of age, as well as his best one yet.

 

Fastball (65% usage)

For the most part, Bassitt throws his sinker 41.5% of the time, with his four-seamer trailing behind at 23.6%. His sinker was a more efficient strike-getter, with a 30.2% strike percentage compared to his four-seamer’s 26.9% rate, but his four-seamer is substantially better at inducing swinging strikes — his four-seamer’s 10% swinging-strike rate dwarfs his sinker’s 5.7%. So, as always, there’s a trade-off, but I’m not sure Bassitt can continue to have success with this current approach.

His 20.1 pVAL on his sinker is insane. His wFB/C — which includes his four-seamer as well — ranks 10th in the league of starters with 120 or more innings. That’s nearly as good as Max Scherzer

As always, I think it’s important to look at his wOBAcon and xwOBAcon. His sinker’s wOBAcon is much lower than his .330 xwOBAcon, but his xwOBAcon is much lower than league average, and lower than his average from 2015 to 2018. Not to mention his sinker’s .244 BABIP. In short, I’m not buying it. He would probably be better off throwing his four-seamer.

 

Cutter (14% usage)

Bassitt’s cutter is a pitch that looks like a fastball, in looking at its peripherals. Although it accrued a -8.0 pVAL and -2.4 pVAL/C, its 26.5% O-Swing rate, 53.3% zone rate, and 11.5% swinging-strike rate aren’t too shabby. Its 75.5 contact percentage was good, too. Unfortunately, it got barreled up quite a bit, with a 9.1% barrel rate.

 

Curveball (13% usage)

Nobody gets as much vertical drop as Bassitt. I just wrote up Mike Fiers‘ curveball, which also gets a ton of movement. Bassitt’s, though, is slower and gets more vertical and horizontal movement. It’s his best pitch in terms of swinging-strike percentage (13.7), but since he throws it in the zone so infrequently, its strike percentage is a mere 23.2.

Honestly, it’s not that great. As I said, it gets a ton of vertical drop, but Baseball Savant factors velocity into its pitch movement averages, and Bassitt doesn’t grade out well there. So, aesthetically pleasing? Sure. But effective? Not really.

 

Changeup (8% usage)

After a start in Seattle, Brett Anderson and Fiers told Bassitt he should throw his curveball and changeup more to avoid being too predictable. His changeup ranks in the 73rd percentile by changeup CSW, so I’m not sure they’re wrong. He hardly throws it, but it’s historically been a pitch that induces weak contact.

 

2020 Outlook

Giving that his 8.9% swinging-strike rate doesn’t stick out, I’m surprised that Alex Chamberlain’s beta Tableau has him with a 23% K rate and 24.4% xK rate. Barring some sequencing or efficiency that I’m not picking up on, I’m not buying it. My guesswork is something like a 4.30 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, and 21% K rate.

 

Realistic worst-case projection: 5.00+ ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 18% K rate in 100 IP

Realistic best-case projection: 3.80 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 23% K rate in 160 IP

 

Nick’s reluctant Chris Bassitt 2020 projection:

4.30 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 21% K rate in 160 IP

 

 

A.J. PukFringe Starter

Nickname: The Goodfellow

 

2020 Outlook

He doesn’t have Luzardo’s command, but he could have a better fastball and an extra above-average secondary offering. I’m not sure how they’re going to manage him, but I imagine there will be some skipped starts and bullpen appearances in the mix. Regardless, his year should look something like Luzardo’s, with more walks and a worse ERA.

 

 

Daniel MengdenFringe Starter

Nickname: The Twirler

 

2020 Outlook

There’s something to love about a pitcher who, across the board, looks like he belongs in the 1970s. The thing is, he also pitches like he’s from the ’70s, using a pitch-to-contact approach. I love watching him pitch, but he’s not great.

 

Nickname explanations:

Mike Fiers: The Arsonist. He makes Fires.

Sean ManaeaBaby Giraffe. It’s what they tell me they call him.

Frankie MontasThe Hotdog. He is a Frank. /shrug

Jesus Luzardo: Jesus Lizard. I mean, how could you not?

Chris BassittThe Hound. He’s a Bassitthound.

A.J. PukThe Goodfellow. Puck from A Midsummer Night’s Dream is also known as Robin Goodfellow. Also, A.J. is a pretty good fellow in baseball.

Daniel MengdenThe Twirler. Have you seen his mustache?

Featured image by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)

Michael Ajeto

Michael writes about the Mariners at Lookout Landing, while doing other analysis here at Pitcher List. You can follow Michael on Twitter @dysthymikey, or you can not.

  • Avatar Daniel M Johnson says:

    Do you think Daulton Jefferies will get a look?

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