August 31, 2012
Four of a Kind: Oakland's Aces
The success of the A's has been spearheaded by exceptional pitching throughout their tenure in Oakland, from the 1970s green machine led by Vida Blue and Catfish Hunter, to the Stew-and-Eck teams of the '80s-'90s, and perhaps most famously with last decade's Big Three of Tim Hudson, Barry Zito, and Mark Mulder. The current A's might lack a traditional “ace” in their rotation, but the same staff that suffered the losses of Gio Gonzalez and Trevor Cahill over the offseason now finds itself in a familiar position near the top of the run-prevention ranks, while the recent return of Brett Anderson from the disabled list has offered a brief glimpse of ace potential.
The current starters on the roster were not exactly trendy fantasy picks in March, and the pitchers who have logged most of the innings for Oakland this year have learned to survive on location and movement more than raw velocity. Yet the pitching staff has allowed the second-fewest runs per game in the American League, trailing only Tampa Bay’s. Four pitchers have tallied 100 or more innings for Oakland thus far in 2012, and though I hope that the readers will pardon the exclusion of the recently suspended Bartolo Colon, the other rotation-mates share some striking mechanical similarities.
(All stats through 8/29/12)
Milone came to the A's in the trade that sent Gonzalez to the Nationals, though he was the less-heralded prize in a deal that also brought right-handers A.J. Cole, Brad Peacock, and catcher Derek Norris to the Oakland organization. The rookie has exceeded expectations this year, boasting a respectable ERA while leading the staff in innings. He owes his success to a shrunken walk rate among otherwise league-average rate stats, traits that conspire to keep him hidden under the media radar. His fastball also fails to light up radar guns, with velocity parked under the 90-mph level. Milone uses the fastball and a cutter to set up a heavy change-up, with movement on el cambio that is more impressive than the change of speed. Milone tosses an occasional curve, but his best weapon is exceptional command of the fastball-changeup combination.
Mechanics Report Card
The first thing that jumps out is Milone's extremely closed stride, a technique that is preferred by LOOGYs everywhere, though the practice is discouraged for starting pitchers. The impetus for such a technique is understandable, as a low-velo lefty will be trained in the art of deception in order to survive in the majors. The downside to such a closed stride is that it can create a barrier to pitch command, as the extreme angle will often make it difficult for a lefty to run the ball inside to right-handed batters. However, Milone has demonstrated no ill effects from the closed stride, thanks in part to the natural cut on his fastball that can find the inner half of the zone without the need for over-rotation.