Sacramento River Cats Pitching At A Glance
Team ERA: 4.21 (second out of 16 teams)
Strike-outs/Walks: 1118/480 (most out of 16 teams/fourth-least of 16 teams)
Team WHIP: 1.39 (tied for best in the league)
Note: this article covers all pitchers who threw at least 35 innings for the Sacramento River Cats in 2011.
With 88 wins, the Sacramento River Cats were the best team in the Pacific Coast League in 2011. Late August and September promotions hurt the River Cats in the playoffs, but during the regular season, they were dominating. A big part of that domination came from the mound, where the River Cats had one of the top staffs in the PCL. They were second in ERA and first in strike-outs and their pitchers didn't walk many batters, either. River Cats' pitchers also worked harder than most in the league, pitching a league-most 1289.2 innings.
The staff was led by right-handed starter Graham Godfrey, who would have finished second in the PCL in ERA if he had had enough innings to qualify (two stints in the major leagues prevented him from reaching the requisite number of innings pitched). Godfrey was brilliant the entire season for Sacramento, winning a team-high 14 games, posting a 2.68 ERA and a 1.14 WHIP in 107.1 innings pitched. He allowed more than two runs only four times and never allowed more than four runs in any of his 19 appearances. Godfrey held opposing batters to a .227 average and coughed up only six homeruns. Lefties hit only .223 against him and righties batted only .230. Godfrey was rewarded with two stints in the big leagues and a Triple-A All-Star nod from Baseball America. He continued to pitch well this winter in a four start stint with the Leones del Escogido of the Dominican Winter League, posting a 3.31 ERA in 16.1 innings. He is expected to compete for a spot in the A's rotation this spring.
Travis Banwart's ERA wasn't as sexy as Godfrey's, but he was the staff leader in terms of innings pitched and starts this season. The right-hander had a solid first full season at Triple-A (he pitched half a season at that level in 2010), posting a 4.63 ERA and striking out a team-best 120 in 149.2 innings. Banwart also finished the season on a roll, posting a 3.39 ERA after the All-Star break. Ironically, his strike-out totals dipped as his ERA did, but his homeruns allowed also dropped dramatically during the second half. Homeruns were the biggest issue for Banwart this season, as he allowed 22. The Wichita State alum was left unprotected for the upcoming Rule 5 draft. Assuming he isn't selected in that draft, he should return to Sacramento next season and is a candidate to make a Godfrey-like jump to the big leagues in 2012.
Carlos Hernandez didn't join the team until late May, but he still managed to finish second on the River Cats' staff in innings pitched with 109.1. The left-hander began the year with Double-A Midland, but was one of the first pitchers the A's called on to fill a spot in Triple-A when injuries and promotions created openings. Hernandez had an up-and-down first season with Sacramento. At times, he was nearly unhittable, but he was also vulnerable to the occasional "blow-up" game. Most of those "blow-up" games occurred away from Raley Field. Hernandez's road ERA was more than double his home ERA (7.05 to 3.10, respectively). He had a decent overall K:BB ratio of 80:32. Hernandez has been a starter for most of his professional career, but his best chance in the big leagues could be as a reliever. The A's may put him back in the rotation to begin the 2012 season, but it wouldn't be a surprise to see Hernandez rack up a number of relief appearances this year, especially since the A's don't currently have a lot of left-handed relievers in the upper-levels of their organization. Like Banwart, Hernandez was left unprotected for the Rule 5 draft.
Another lefty who made a solid contribution to the River Cats' staff in 2011 was Josh Outman. Pitching his first season since having Tommy John surgery in 2009, Outman made 17 starts for the River Cats. He also appeared in 13 games for the A's. With Sacramento, Outman overcame a rough April to put together a solid season. He went 8-3 with a 3.91 ERA and he had 72 strike-outs in 78.1 innings. Walks were a problem for Outman, however, as he issued 47 free passes. That problem would continue during his major league stint, as well. Outman's control did improve as the season wore on, however, and control issues are not uncommon for pitchers recovering from Tommy John surgery, so there is reason to be optimistic that walks won't be quite as big an issue for Outman in 2012. Even before the injury, he was never considered a "plus-command" pitcher, however, although his high strike-out totals have helped to minimize that issue over the years. Outman has had success during his career as both a starter and as a reliever. He is expected to be in contention for a rotation spot with Oakland this spring, but he could wind-up in the A's bullpen if he doesn't land the starter spot.
Yadel Marti, the former Cuban national team star pitching in the US for the first time, made 14 starts and two relief appearances for the River Cats in 2011. He was hit hard with Sacramento, allowing 100 hits in only 82.1 innings. Marti pitched to contact much of the season, striking out only 50. Although he spent the majority of the year with the River Cats, he finished the season with Double-A Midland, an indication that he had fallen on the A's minor league depth chart. The 32-year-old is currently pitching well for the Leones de Ponce in the Puerto Rican Winter League. It has been reported that he is hoping for a release from the A's this off-season so he can find another organization that will give him an opportunity in the big leagues. Thus far, the A's haven't made any transactions involving Marti.
The majority of the starts not made by Godfrey, Banwart, Hernandez, Outman or Marti were split between Guillermo Moscoso, Tyson Ross and Lenny DiNardo. Moscoso was only with the River Cats early in the season, as he was given an opportunity at the major league level and never relinquished his spot in Oakland's rotation. The right-hander had a 3.88 ERA in nine appearances (eight starts) for Sacramento. In five of those outings, he allowed one or no runs. With the big league team, Moscoso had a 3.38 ERA in 128 innings. He is currently penciled in as the A's fifth starter for 2012.
Ross was scheduled to be the River Cats' Opening Day starter, but he was promoted to the big leagues before the PCL season could begin. He spent the first two months of the season with the A's, first in the bullpen and later in the starting rotation. Ross pitched well for the A's, posting a 2.75 ERA in 36 innings before landing on the disabled list with an oblique strain. He was expected to return to Oakland after a rehab stint, but Ross was never able to get back on-track in the minor leagues and he spent the rest of the year in the minors. In nine starts with the River Cats, Ross had a 7.61 ERA. He struck-out 34 in 36.2 innings, but he walked 22 and allowed 52 hits. Ross pitched better during the Arizona Fall League. Although his ERA was 5.94, he struck-out 13 and walked only five in 16.2 innings. He is a wild card for the A's coming into spring training. If healthy and in control of his mechanics, Ross could be a strong candidate for the A's starting rotation or the back-end of their bullpen. If he is still out of sorts, however, he will likely return to Sacramento.
DiNardo was picked up by the A's midway through the season. He made 13 appearances for Sacramento (nine starts) before he was sent down to Double-A Midland. He would finish the year with the Rockhounds. DiNardo struggled early with the River Cats but improved after four poor starts. Overall, his ERA with Sacramento was 6.49. He allowed eight homeruns and 25 walks in 61 innings. DiNardo is currently a minor league free agent and is pitching in the Dominican Winter League.
The River Cats' bullpen was led by a number of veteran relievers. Former Giants' reliever Vinnie Chulk had a team-high 69.2 relief innings. He posted a 3.36 ERA and saved four games while striking out 55 and walking 26. He is currently a minor league free agent. Veteran right-hander Fernando Cabrera also had a solid year for Sacramento. His 2.71 ERA was second-best on the staff and he had a 73:26 K:BB ratio in 63 innings. Cabrera also saved nine games. The A's never called up Cabrera, however, who failed to make an appearance in the big leagues for the first time since 2004. He is also a minor league free agent.
Willie Eyre was a mid-season PCL All-Star for the River Cats and he had nine saves for Sacramento. In 62 innings with the River Cats, he posted a 3.48 ERA with 45 strike-outs and 28 walks. Eyre was granted his release by the A's late in the season so he could sign with a club that needed him at the major league level. He found that fit with the Baltimore Orioles and had a 3.44 ERA in 18.1 innings with Baltimore during the final six weeks of the season.
Right-hander Trystan Magnuson was one of the River Cats' top relievers during the first half of the season. In 45.1 innings with the club, he posted a 2.98 ERA and struck-out 46 while walking only 19. Magnuson had a couple of stints with the A's, appearing in nine games. He finished the year on the 60-day disabled list with a shoulder injury and was dropped from the A's 40-man roster and later traded to the Toronto Blue Jays during the off-season. Ironically, the A's had acquired Magnuson from Toronto before the start of the season.
Like Eyre, right-hander Joe Bateman was released by the A's mid-season so he could pursue better opportunities with another organization. The veteran reliever appeared in 26 games for the River Cats before his release, posting a 5.40 ERA in 43.1 innings. He struck-out 35 and walked 15. Bateman eventually signed with Tampa Bay and finished the season with Triple-A Durham. He had spent the previous two seasons in the Rays' chain.
With the mid-season departures of several veteran relievers, the A's called on Justin Souza to fill one of the open slots in the River Cats' bullpen. After missing the first few months of the season recovering from an elbow injury, Souza began the year with Double-A Midland and was dominant with the Rockhounds. He posted a 1.33 ERA in 20.1 innings for Midland before getting the call to Sacramento. With the River Cats, he had a 4.85 ERA with a 31:11 K:BB ratio in 42.2 innings. Souza is a candidate for a non-roster invite to big league spring training this year if he isn't selected by another team during the Rule 5 draft.