2011 Year In Review: Stockton Pitchers

Our "2011 Year In Review" series continues with a look at the pitchers for the Oakland A's High-A affiliate.

Stockton Ports Pitching At A Glance
Team ERA: 4.29 (2nd best out of 10 teams)
Strike-outs/Walks: 1134/356 (sixth-most out of 10 teams/least out of 10 teams)
Team WHIP: 1.29 (best in the league)

Note: this article covers all pitchers who threw at least 30 innings for the Stockton Ports in 2011.

The Stockton Ports in 2011 put together their most successful season as a franchise since they won the Cal League title in 2008. The Ports won 75 games and finished 10 games over the .500 mark. Stockton earned a playoff spot during the second half of the season and went on to upset first-half division winner San Jose in the Cal League semi-finals before losing in the final round. Stockton had an 18-game winning streak during the season and featured several standout individual performances.

The Ports had offensive firepower, but it was their pitching that quietly led the way for the team. Stockton finished second in the league in ERA to their rivals in San Jose. The team had three starting pitchers make at least 24 starts and toss at least 135 innings and their closer finished second in the league in saves. Although the Stockton staff featured several hard throwers, they weren't a power-pitching club. Instead, they relied on pitching to contact. They walked the fewest batters in the league and led all Cal League staffs in WHIP.

Starters Daniel Straily, Robert Gilliam and Murphy Smith set the tone for the Ports' staff at the top of the rotation for the entire season. Gilliam led the team with 164.1 innings pitched and won a team-best 12 games. His ERA was a misleadingly high 5.04. He struck-out 156 and walked only 48. Gilliam's biggest pratfall was his homeruns allowed total, which sat at 24.

Straily had an 11-9 record and a 3.87 ERA in 160.2 innings. He finished second on the team to Gilliam in strike-outs with 154 and he walked only 40 while allowing only 10 homeruns. Straily was the team's most consistent starter. With the exception of the month of May and one start in September, Straily maintained an ERA of 3.35 or lower in every month of the season. He also never walked more than 10 batters in any given month and never struck-out fewer than 27. In July, Straily struck-out 41 and walked only seven in 40.1 innings.

Smith missed a few starts with a minor injury, but was otherwise a reliable arm in the Stockton rotation. He had a 3.94 ERA in 137 innings with a 100:33 K:BB ratio. Smith allowed 10 homeruns and induced 1.72 groundouts for every flyout. It was a solid recovery season for Smith after he struggled with Stockton in 2010, posting a 6.19 ERA in 48 innings. He is currently pitching for the Phoenix Desert Dogs in the Arizona Fall League.

A.J. Griffin was only with the team for half of the season, but he made his presence felt. The 6'5'' right-hander posted a 3.57 ERA in 12 starts (70.2 innings) during the regular season and then made three outstanding starts during the post-season. In 21 post-season innings, he allowed three earned runs (1.29 ERA) and struck-out 28 while walking two. The Ports won all three of his starts. During the regular season with Stockton, Griffin also racked up impressive strike-out totals. In 70.2 innings, he struck-out 82 and walked only 14. On the year (he pitched for all four of the A's full-season affiliates), Griffin struck-out 156 and walked only 32. Griffin's 1.10 WHIP was the lowest for any Stockton starter.

Left-hander Jake Brown started the season alongside Griffin in the Low-A Burlington Bees' rotation. Both were promoted to Stockton in late May. While Griffin made a smooth transition, Brown ran into some difficulties with the Ports. In 99 innings, he posted a 5.55 ERA. He allowed 16 homeruns and struck-out only 53 batters. On the plus side, Brown walked only 19 and posted a 4.75 ERA after the All-Star break, a nearly 2.5 run improvement over his first half Cal League ERA. Brown did make two relief appearances for the Ports and dominated in those outings, scattering four hits over 6.1 scoreless innings. The soft-tossing Brown's future may lie in the bullpen.

Fabian Williamson was the only other pitcher to make at least 10 starts for the Ports this season. The left-hander was on the Ports' Opening Day roster, but he struggled from the get-go. He posted a 7.53 ERA in 49 innings. Williamson did strike-out 40, but he walked 29 and allowed eight homers. Williamson also made 10 appearances for the Double-A Midland Rockhounds, but found the sledding equally tough in the Texas League. Williamson has good stuff, but his command will need to improve significantly to find success in offensive-friendly leagues such as the Cal League.

Former first-round pick (2007) James Simmons spent the second half of the season with the Ports, splitting his time between the rotation and the bullpen. Simmons was sent to Double-A Midland after signing in 2007, so he was making his High-A debut in 2011 despite his five years in professional baseball. Simmons missed the entire 2010 season with a shoulder injury that wound-up requiring surgery. He wasn't 100 percent in terms of his arm strength this season and it showed in his 5.48 ERA. Simmons was a strike-throwing machine (only six walks in 42.2 innings), but his 86-88 MPH fastball was too hittable at times and he allowed 56 hits and five homeruns. Simmons' secondary pitches, especially his change-up, looked good for much of his time with the Ports, so there is hope that he will see a dramatic improvement with his ERA next season if the velocity on his fastball returns.

Gary Daley was only with the team for a little more than a month, but he provided a boost to the staff while he was in the rotation. In six starts, he went 3-0 with a 3.21 ERA. Daley had a 22:12 K:BB ratio in 33.2 innings and held opposing batters to a .226 average. He would spent most of the season with Midland.

The Ports' bullpen was an area of strength for most of the season. Closer Jose Guzman finished second in the Cal League in saves with 20 and he posted a 2.91 ERA in his first full season at the High-A level. The Dominican right-hander, who re-signed with the A's rather than elect minor league free agency this off-season, struck-out 71 in 68 innings. He held opposing batters to a .203 average and walked 28.

Left-hander A.J. Huttenlocker had the team's best ERA with a 1.83 mark and he led all Stockton relievers with 69 innings pitched. Huttenlocker showed impressive command, walking only 12 against 60 strike-outs. He also allowed only three homeruns and had a 1.07 WHIP. He did a good job of keeping the ball on the ground and improved as the season went on despite the heavy workload. A 44th-round pick in 2009, Huttenlocker has been impressive at every level in which he has competed and he should get an opportunity at the Double-A level next season.

Josh Lansford also showed impressive command out of the Ports' bullpen. The converted infielder walked only 11 in 58.1 innings. He also struck-out 68 and held opposing batters to a .200 average. Like his younger brother Jared, Josh proved to be a groundball pitcher for the Ports, inducing nearly 1.5 groundouts for every flyout and allowing only four homeruns. Josh, whose fastball touched as high as 95 MPH during the season, should move on to Midland next season, as well.

Scott Deal and Connor Hoehn both got a lot of work out of the Stockton bullpen. Deal, in his second season with the Ports, posted a 4.92 ERA in 64 innings. He struck-out 43 and walked 26. The right-hander out of Washington state was originally drafted by the A's in the fifth round in 2005. He is a minor league free agent this off-season and will be 25-years-old throughout next year. Deal spent three seasons at the Low-A level with Kane County before moving up to Stockton in 2010.

Hoehn had a strange season for the Ports. His ERA was 5.21, but, at times, he looked like the best pitcher on the staff. He finished second on the team in saves with seven and had an impressive 59:12 K:BB ratio in 48.1 innings. He also held opposing batters to a .214 average. Hoehn was sloppy with his location at times, however, and that led to 11 homeruns allowed. He missed some time during the season with minor injuries. Despite the high ERA and high homer total, Hoehn improved both his K/9 and BB/9 ratios over his 2010 season and lowered his WHIP nearly .2. He should get an opportunity with Midland next season and could be a breakout candidate if he can cut down on the homeruns allowed.

Veteran Michael Benacka joined the team in June after rehabbing an injury that cost him the first half of the season. Benacka was his typical high-strike-out/high-walk self while with Stockton. In 31.2 innings, he struck-out 30 and walked 15. Opposing batters hit only .214 against him and he posted a 2.84 ERA.

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