Great starting pitching and a cast of solid hitters proved to be a recipe for success for the A’s in the early 2000′s. Remember the days of Oakland’s “Big Three” of Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, and Barry Zito? Remember how they helped mold the A’s into perennial playoff contenders year in and year out?
Those days may be over, but it seems a new generation is upon us. A’s GM Billy Beane has done a pretty solid job in laying out the foundation for yet another “Big Three.” Young hurlers like Brett Anderson, Trevor Cahill, and Gio Gonzalez just might be the second-coming of the Oakland’s “Big Three.”
The A’s ranked 1st in the AL in ERA (3.56), 1st in Quality Starts (103), and 1st in shut-outs (17). Offensively, however, the A’s ranked 13th in the AL in HR (109), 9th in average (.256), and 10th in OPS (.702). The A’s had the best pitching staff in the AL, but also one of the worst offenses in the league.
Pitching will be key for Oakland in 2011, and if the team addresses some of their issues on offense by adding a guy like 3B Adrian Beltre, they could be on their way to becoming a contender once again. The new “Big Three,” however, is poised to become even better next year regardless of an upgraded offense.
No. 1: Brett Anderson, 22 (7-6, 2.80 ERA, 75 K/22 BB, 112.1 IP)
Anderson figures to be the A’s long-term ace, as evident by the team’s four-year extension with the young stud. He’s had some injuries this year, and that’s always alarming, but he should be healthy for the start of next spring. The A’s definitely have high hopes for Anderson, who went 7-6 with a 2.80 ERA in 19 starts this season.
Anderson struck out 75 batters this season, and walked only 22 in 112.1 innings. When healthy, Anderson has the makings of a perennial All-Star, and that’s why he should be regarded as the potential ace of this staff.
No. 2: Trevor Cahill, 22 (18-8, 2.97 ERA, 118 K/63 BB, 196.2 IP)
Cahill emerged as Oakland’s ace in 2010, and led the team in wins (18). He was a legitimate CY Young candidate for most of the season, and really had himself an incredible season. In 30 starts this year, Cahill compiled an 18-8 record, 1.11 WHIP, and limited opposing offenses to just a .222 batting average. He ranked 4th in the AL in wins, 4th in winning percentage (.692), 4th in WHIP (1.11), and 4th in ERA (2.97).
Sure he had incredible luck this year with an incredibly low BABIP, but that shouldn’t take away from what the sinker-baller Cahill brings to the table. He should have a solid season next year, as should all the members in Oakland’s starting five.
No. 3: Gio Gonzalez, 25 (15-9, 3.23 ERA, 171 K/92 BB, 200.2 IP)
Gonzalez, who made the rotation thanks to an injured Cahill in April, also had a breakout type season. In 2009, Gonzalez went 6-7 with a 5.75 ERA in 17 starts. The year before that, in 2008, the south-paw went 1-4 with a 7.68 ERA in 7 starts with Oakland.
This season, however, Gonzalez showed considerable growth and maturation and went 15-9 with a 3.23 ERA in 33 starts. He led the A’s in innings pitched (200.2), and ranked 8th in the AL in ERA. The only thing against Gio was his high walk rate. He gave up 92 free passes, which ranked 2nd among AL pitchers. Still, he managed to have himself quite the season. Not only did he keep his composure during most outings, he seemed to improve as the season progressed with his best month coming in August. In six August starts, Gonzalez went 3-2 with a 1.98 ERA. He followed that up with a month of September where he went 3-1 with a 3.21 ERA.
Gonzalez has a nasty curve, and if he continues to grow and mature, he’s going to become a star.
Can a trio of Anderson-Cahill-Gonzalez emulate the same type of success that the first Big Three had? Well, only time can tell.