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Deep Dive: Oakland A's Starting Rotation

Managing fantasy starting pitchers will be especially tough this season. With just three weeks of summer camp, some pitchers will be better prepared for the start of the season than others.

Identifying the deepest MLB pitching staffs that can serve as valuable waiver wire resources will be one of the keys to your successful fantasy baseball season.

The Oakland A’s starting rotation has been one of the most underrated in baseball over the past two seasons. Oakland Coliseum’s pitcher-friendly environment is a contributing factor to their success. In 2018, Oakland Coliseum had the third-lowest average number of runs scored per game. That average rose to fourth-fewest in '19.

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In 2018, A’s starting pitchers were slightly better than the league average in two key pitching categories:

2018 starting pitchers

A’s starting pitchers 4.17 1.24
Major League starting pitchers 4.19 1.29

In 2019’s hitter-friendly environment, A’s starting pitchers also outperformed the rest of the baseball’s starting pitchers, and by an even wider margin than in 2018:

2019 starting pitchers ERA WHIP
A’s starting pitchers 4.02 1.24
Major League starting pitchers 4.54 1.32

Glance at Oakland’s starting rotation

Frankie Montas, who had a 9-2 won/loss record, a 2.63 ERA and a 1.115 WHIP before receiving an 80-game PED related suspension last June, will be the A’s Opening Day starter. In addition to a blazing fastball, Montas’ next best pitch is his slider which has been virtually unhittable (.191 career BAA). He registered the highest chase rate of his career last season (31.3), powered by whiff percentages of 34.1% and 15.4% on his slider and splitter, respectively. Montas only added the aforementioned splitter to his arsenal last season, and with a .160 BAA, it was instrumental in his brief breakout 2019 season.

(Montas may miss a week of the season due to the impending birth of his child.)

Rotoballer recommendation: Add. Montas has the potential to be one of the top fantasy baseball starters this season. He may end up being worth the high price you’d need to spend for him in a trade.

Mike Fiers is a workhorse who’s ready to take the ball when called upon. He’s averaged just over 30 starts over the past five seasons. In 356.2 innings pitched over the past two seasons with the Tigers and A’s, he’s won 27 games and compiled a 3.73 ERA and 1.183 WHIP. With two career no-hitters under his belt, it's safe to say that when he’s on, he’s on.

His curveball is especially effective, as opposing hitters have a lifetime BAA it of just .190, a note especially valuable for DFS players. For his career, Fiers has gone 9-1 with a 2.54 ERA and 1.017 WHIP when pitching at Oakland Coliseum.

Rotoballer recommendation: Add. Last season’s FIP, xFIP and SIERA suggest fantasy players should avoid rostering Fiers, but his reliability (especially in his home starts) may be just what your fantasy team needs in this unpredictable season. He’ll come cheap in trades.

A.J. Puk will begin the season on the injured list due to a shoulder strain, the same injury that he suffered in March. He has received a cortisone shot and is expected to miss at least the first two weeks of the season. Prior to suffering this latest setback Puk, whose innings pitched would’ve been capped in a 162-game season, was expected to pitch without restrictions in the upcoming 60-game season.

Puk’s got ace-like stuff, including a four-pitch arsenal anchored by a 97-mph fastball. He also throws a nasty slider and changeup which produced whiff percentages of 37% and 55.6%, respectively, last season. His future success depends on his health, and also hinges on his improving his control. In a very small sample size, (11.1 IP in relief last season) Puk posted a 3.97 BB/9 rate.

Rotoballer recommendation: Hold Puk, especially if you have an empty IL spot. Puk might not take the mound for several weeks and that’s if he doesn’t suffer further setbacks. However, in a short season you might not have the luxury to wait.

Jesus Luzardo is widely regarded as the A’s number one prospect with four potential out pitches. He throws an upper 90s fastball and a hard sinker, as well as a changeup and curve that keep opposing batters on their toes. In addition, he has the type of pinpoint control not often found in young pitchers.

Luzardo suffered shoulder and lat injuries and only pitched 12 innings at the Major League level last season. He was also expected to pitch without any inning limits this abbreviated season, however, he tested positive for COVID-19 and missed the first two weeks of summer camp. He has since rejoined the A’s and will work out of the bullpen to start the season. He will move into the starting rotation once his arm is fully stretched out.

Rotoballer recommendation: Buy low if you can. Use the uncertainty surrounding when he’ll be able to join the starting rotation in your trade negotiations to drive down his asking price. Luzardo's shown no lingering effects from last season’s shoulder injury and with his upside is worth adding to your roster.

Sean Manaea spent much of last season rehabbing from labrum surgery. He was only able to make five September starts, but he made them count. Savvy fantasy baseball managers who grabbed him off the waiver wire were treated to a 1.21 ERA and 0.775 WHIP. He also punched out 30 batters in 29.2 innings.

The velocity on Manaea's fastball and changeup were down a bit but surprisingly, the velocity on his slider increased very slightly. Manaea threw his changeup a little less than in the past and used his slider a bit more in those five starts. His fastball topped out at 89 mph in his last Summer Camp start, which is way down from the 92.9 mph average velocity he displayed in 2016. His slider and changeup seem effective enough to make up his lack of a blazing fastball.

Rotoballer recommendation: Buy low. Reach out to fantasy managers who may be worried about his drop in velocity. He’s another pitcher showing no lingering effects from last season's injuries.


Additional A’s starting pitcher options

Chris Bassitt is comfortable working in long relief or as a starter. He’ll be the A’s fourth starter to begin the season as Luzardo continues to stretch himself out and Puk recovers. Bassitt throws a fastball in the mid-90s range and his curveball and changeup had a combined .168 BAA last season.

Bassitt made 25 starts for the A’s in 2019, winning 10 of 15 decisions and posting a 3.81 ERA. For those interested in Bassitt from a DFS perspective, he posted a 3.01 ERA and 1.107 WHIP at home compared to a 4.54 ERA and 1.274 WHIP on the road last season.

Rotoballer recommendation: Buy/Add. With the uncertainty surrounding the extent of Puk’s recent injury, he could remain in the rotation for the rest of the season. If he moves back into the bullpen and your league tracks holds, he’ll still provide value.

Daniel Mengden enters the 2020 season with 47 career big league starts on his resume and with a new delivery. Mengden is slated to be the A’s fifth starter to open the season.

Mengden was a solid Minor League pitcher, compiling a career 3.14 ERA and 1.153 WHIP, but so far his career big league numbers have been spotty. He doesn’t have overpowering stuff, but he keeps opposing hitters guessing, as they try to figure out which one of his six pitches will be coming their way. They’ll have a hard time hitting his sinker and curve, both of which have a career BAA below the Mendoza line.

Mengden’s not known as a strikeout pitcher, but his slider and curveball miss bats. His slider produces a robust whiff per swing rate of 29.14% and his curveball produces an even better 33.82% rate for his career.

Rotoballer recommendation: Wait and see. If Luzardo is able to take his spot in the rotation fairly quickly Mengden might only make one or two starts and then work out of the bullpen in long relief. Unless you play in deeper leagues (12 to 15 teams), he’s not someone you’ll want to run out and grab off the waiver wire but he’s worth an add to your watch list.

James Kaprielian is a former 2015 first-round pick who’s been bitten by the injury bug almost his entire career. He made 16 Minor League starts last season, but when healthy, he’s pitched well. Kaprielian’s career Minor League stats include a 2.96 ERA, a 10.3 K/9 and a 2.1 BB/9.

Rotoballer recommendation: Add to your watch list. His stuff is electric. Add him at the right time and you might just catch a jolt of lightning in a bottle.

Daulton Jefferies is another prospect who’s been plagued by injuries, but the talent is there. In 99 1/3 career Minor League innings, he has a 3.17 ERA, a 1.047 WHIP, an 11.0 K/9, and a 1.1 BB/9.

Rotoballer recommendation: Add to your watch list. His 2019 K:BB was superb. He can hit the ground running if called upon.

Yusmeiro Petit will work long relief for the A’s, but the veteran has started 59 games in his career and could be called upon for a spot start or two if needed. He’s never started a game in Oakland’s Coliseum, but he has a career 3.02 ERA and .0975 WHIP when pitching at the A’s home park.

Rotoballer recommendation: Add to your watch list. The A's hope they never need to turn to Petit for starting pitching help. He could be a good resource for holds.