Yes, you read the heading of this article correctly. The 2012 A’s boasted the best team ERA in Billy Beane’s 15 years as General Manager. That’s right, this past season the team actually had a better ERA than any squad during the Big Three years of Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito.
Through 2011, none of Beane’s teams had pitched below a 3.50 ERA over the course of the season. In 2012, the A’s were able to get down to a 3.48 ERA. This was perhaps the most unnoticed statistic during the A’s dash to top the AL West. It was certainly one of the most surprising.
Last offseason the team traded away Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzales and Andrew Bailey for several prospects. They were each major contributors and effective during their years in Green and Gold. In 2011 Cahill and Gonzales each pitched more than 200 innings. Cahill was an All-Star in 2010, and Gonzalez was an All-Star in 2011. Bailey was also a 2 time All-Star and had 75 saves from 2009 – 2011. Their departures meant that the A’s were likely gearing up for a division run…in 2015.
Yet in 2012 the A’s had to overcome additional pitching issues aside from the departure of the above-mentioned pitchers. To name a few:
Veteran Brian Fuentes was released early in the year after performing poorly.
Grant Balfour struggled early as the closer.
A resurgent Bartolo Colon was suspended during the most crucial stretch of the season.
Respected leader Brandon McCarthy was injured and needed brain surgery shortly after Colon’s loss. He, too, was done for the year.
Their lone All-Star, Ryan Cook, struggled after the break and lost his closer gig.
Brett Anderson missed most of the year, started 6 games, and missed the remaining part of the regular season with injury.
Sean Doolittle was a first baseman just a couple of years ago.
Tyson Ross was not the answer to anything as evidenced by his 6.50 ERA over 18 games. He has since been traded to the Padres.
Dallas Braden, he of the Perfect Game in 2010 and A-Rod’s best friend (just kidding), didn’t even pitch in 2012 due to injury.
Lastly, veteran catcher Kurt Suzuki was traded during the season leaving youthful Derek Norris and backup George Kottaras to call the games.
So who stepped up? Well, everyone did. Last season’s 3.48 ERA included the collective efforts of 25 starters and relievers who pitched 1,470 innings.
The core starting rookies were Tommy Milone, Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin along with Dan Straily. To their credit, they all had sub-3.90 ERA’s and all of them had winning records at the end of the season. McCarthy had a 3.24 ERA in 18 starts and Colon had 3.43 ERA in 24 starts. Travis Blackey also started 15 games and chipped in 6 wins with a 3.86 ERA. This was an effective balance of youthful and veteran starters.
While the starters were solid, the top 5 relievers were brilliant. Grant Balfour, Ryan Cook, Jerry Blevins, Jordan Noberto and Jim Miller all had ERA’s of 2.77 or below.
Behind the plate, Norris and Kottaras were calling good games down the stretch as well. However, their contributions to the team’s pitching success may have been overlooked due their offensive shortcomings.
The coaching staff deserves a ton of credit also. Curt Young, the A’s pitching coach, and Rick Rodriguez, the A’s bullpen coach cannot be appreciated enough. Bob Melvin, along with Young and Rodriguez, remained steady despite having to deal with the injuries, suspensions and youth. Young will return in 2013. Rodriguez, a Bob Geren-era holdover, will depart but may remain in the organization in a minor league role. Darren Bush, manager of the A’s AAA affiliate Sacramento River Cats, will take over for Rodriguez.
Back in Spring Training it was certainly hard to imagine that 2012 would wind up the way it did. Good pitching had much to do with the team’s success. Hopefully the pitching staff returns and the success will carry on in 2013 as well.
Of course, with Beane at the helm anything is possible. He traded his last 3 All-Star pitchers for prospects, and yet the squad delivered the best team ERA in his tenure.
I know what Beane and Lew Wolff might be scheming now….Hey Giants, we’ll give you any one of our pitchers plus Daric Barton for stadium rights in San Jose. Deal?