2012 Year In Review: River Cats' Pitchers

The Sacramento River Cats have traditionally had a strong pitching staff, and the 2012 season was no different. In part two of his 2012 look-back, Chris Biderman reviews the River Cats' pitching staff.

For the first part of this article, which focused on the Sacramento River Cats' hitters, please click here.

Only pitchers who threw at least 30 innings were considered for this article.

Pitching Staff Overview

As a pitching staff, Sacramento had the second-best team ERA at 4.10, leading the PCL in strikeouts with 1134 and averaged 7.82 per nine innings. The starting pitching wasn't quite at the same level the team has seen in recent seasons, but Darren Bush's bullpen did its part to make up for it, proving why he deserved his promotion to the Athletics as their bullpen coach for 2013. The club will have to look for a new manager next year.

River Cats' Pitchers

Newcomer Brad Peacock went through numerous ups and downs during his first season for his new organization. As one of the players acquired in the Gio Gonzalez trade with the Washington Nationals, the right-hander arrived with high expectations. Peacock made huge strides in 2011 that ultimately led to him making the jump from Double-A Harrisburg to the majors in one year, thanks to an outstanding strikeout-to-walk ratio of just under six in almost 100 innings.

For most of 2012, however, he struggled with consistency, despite leading the team in strikeouts. Control was his biggest issue, as he walked well more than four hitters per nine innings. It wouldn't be completely fair to suggest that Peacock regressed in 2012 because of numerous mechanical adjustments the A's staff was having him make.

On the surface, Peacock's 6.01 ERA could appear worrisome. But his season was filled with peaks and valleys that saw strings of outstanding outings followed by a run of poor ones. But if there's a positive to take away from Peacock's 2012, it's that he was able to lower his first half ERA from 7.12 to 4.14, signifying that he was becoming more comfortable with the array of mechanical adjustments. In August, he allowed just 16 hits in 25 innings, holding hitters to a .184 average.

Often when pitchers struggle with control, their main focus is to stay in the strike zone to a fault, which could have led to some of Peacock's poor starts. With a plus fastball, curveball and improving changeup, Peacock has the tools for success and many of the knocks against him are similar to those that plagued Gonzalez at a similar point of his career. Their repertoires are similar, just on opposite sides of the rubber.

Peacock should head into 2013 much more comfortable with his mechanics than he was early on in 2012. He'll also be familiar with his surroundings and have a much more clear idea of what expect. If he's able to carry his improved mechanics into next season, he should be in a good position to be one of the first pitchers called on for the A's from Sacramento.

Bruce Billings returned to Sacramento in 2012 after spending some time in the River Cats' bullpen the previous year, while also making a couple starts. As a fulltime member of the rotation this season, he went 7-6 with a 3.98 ERA and struck out three times as many hitters as he walked, which was the best mark he's had since he played in A-ball in the Colorado Rockies organization.

The righty allowed 126 hits in 133.1 innings, improved his walk rate and struck out 117. Billings has already pitched in the big leagues with both the Rockies and A's in 2011, making four relief appearances during which he allowed 10 runs in seven combined innings. He came to the A's in the Mark Ellis trade in June of that year.

Billings hasn't received much major league attention, but he has a good fastball and has shown spurts of effectiveness that could put him in the conversation. In May, he went 3-0 while allowing hitters just a .176 average in 34.1 innings, but he had an ERA of well over four in every other month of the season. Billings projects to get another shot in the River Cats rotation in 2013.

Right-hander Travis Banwart was a Swiss Army knife for Sacramento, throwing 128.2 innings both in the rotation and out of the bullpen. His numbers were very similar in both roles, but left-handed hitters had a much easier time against him than righties. Banwart made 14 relief appearances and 18 starts.

He starred at home, allowing a 2.88 ERA but had that number jump to 5.51 away from Sacramento. This season was Banwart's third at the Triple-A level, but he has yet to receive a major league call-up. Depending on how the River Cats' roster shakes out next season, Banwart could get a more extended look as a reliever next season.

After a disappointing start to the season with Oakland, Graham Godfrey was outstanding against Pacific Coast League hitters after getting demoted back to Sacramento, where he's thrown very well in the last two seasons. In 2012, it took the right-hander 14 starts before he got his first loss in Triple-A. He was tabbed as one of the best starters in the league throughout the season. Godfrey went 9-2 with a 3.29 ERA in 20 appearances and 17 starts. He went 0-4 in four major league starts where he allowed 15 runs in 19 innings with the A's before being sent to the bullpen and ultimately back down to the minors for the remainder of the season.

Godfrey became a curious case within the A's organization as the summer wore on. He dominated to start, but then was moved to the River Cats' bullpen late in the year, perhaps due to a knee injury that required off-season surgery. Godfrey should be healthy by Opening Day and is eligible for minor league free agency.

Former second-round pick Tyson Ross had a bounce-back season after struggling with injuries and inconsistency in 2011. He posted a 6-2 record with a 2.99 ERA in 78.1 innings with the River Cats after having a 7.61 ERA with them last year. Ross struggled in a few different stints in the A's rotation, before being placed in the bullpen for good. No one questions whether his stuff is major league quality, but Ross, who has a hard fastball and plus slider, consistently struggled against teams in the second and third time through the lineup. After being in the A's bullpen in September, Ross heads into the offseason knowing that his best chance to stick in the major leagues is as a reliever. That new mindset should have positive results, considering the amount of pressure placed on him as a starter that struggled to get deep into games.

Assuming Ross handles the transition well and regains the confidence that got him to the major leagues in the first place, he projects as a late-inning option who could become eventually become a closer. Realizing that potential would be extremely beneficial for the A's, considering how heavily they relied on Ryan Cook and Grant Balfour in 2012.

Righty Dan Straily had one of the best seasons of any pitcher at any level of baseball in 2012. Overall, he struck out 222 hitters in 191.1 combined innings between Double-A, Triple-A and the big leagues. His 11.2 strikeouts per nine innings tabbed him as perhaps the next star prospect in a system. Straily started the season with Double-A Midland, striking out 108 in 14 starts before getting promoted to Sacramento in late June. There, he starred, going 6-3, holding hitters to a .172 average and while striking out 82 in 66.2 innings.

But while the right-hander's gaudy whiff numbers indicate that he's a power-pitcher reminiscent of Stephen Strasburg or Justin Verlander (of whom his minor league strikeout numbers compare with very favorably), he's much more of a finesse thrower that pitches to contact. That was evident once he got to the major leagues, when he struck out just 32 in 39.1 innings.

One of Straily's biggest issues in the big leagues was the home run. He allowed 11, putting his nine-inning rate to 2.5, which is well above where a starter throwing in the Coliseum should be. Straily was effective with Oakland, however, but showed that there is plenty of room for him to improve before becoming a full-time major league starter. This year was Straily's first above the A-ball level.

The A's acquired right-hander reliever Rich Thompson off waivers from the Los Angeles Angels in April to provide depth to the bullpen. He made three appearances for the A's in April before getting designated for assignment on April 25. The native Australian become a very valuable weapon for the River Cats in the second half of the season, where he went 3-1 with two saves, allowing just 14 hits in 27 innings and a 1.67 ERA. Thompson is now a minor league free agent.

A.J. Griffin and Straily started the season as roommates while they were both throwing for Double-A Midland, and it turned out they would have very similar seasons. Like Straily, Griffin catapulted himself to the majors and even made a start in the American League Division Series against the Detroit Tigers in game 4. Griffin got off to an outstanding start to his major league career. In his first 15 outings, he went 7-1 with a 3.06 ERA surviving on fastball placement and deception. His big, slow curveball became his signature, which came in at well below 70 miles-per-hour.

During his stint with the River Cats, Griffin made 10 starts and allowed hitters just a .217 average. Strangely, his numbers on the road were considerably better than at home, which is opposite of the norm for Sacramento's pitchers.

With the A's re-signing of Bartolo Colon, Griffin could be on the outside looking in on a spot in Oakland's Opening Day rotation, especially if the A's also re-sign Brandon McCarthy. But if 2012 was any indication, nothing is certain when it comes to starting pitching except the importance of depth. If Griffin starts the season back in Sacramento's rotation, he could be alongside Peacock, Straily and Sonny Gray, which would be a very, very good Triple-A rotation.

Justin Souza was one of the rare River Cat relievers to not have a great 2012. He proved to be very hittable, allowing 86 hits in just 57.2 innings, including 12 home runs. The Stockton native will test the free agency waters this off-season.

Southpaw Fabio Castro struggled with both pitching and health in 2012. He went 3-7 with a 6.92 ERA as a starter and reliever with the River Cats before getting demoted to Double-A Midland in June. He is also a free agent this off-season.

Fellow lefty Pedro Figueroa had a very good year in 2012. Not only did he shine with the River Cats, but he was promoted to Oakland and showed plenty of promise – albeit in low-leverage situations. He made 19 appearances and allowed 16 hits in 21.2 innings while exhibiting plus stuff from the left side. Figueroa's issue remains his ability to throw strikes consistently. He walked one more hitter than he struck out.

With Sacramento, Figueroa had a 2.62 ERA in 32 appearances. The control issues that plagued him in the majors were not as apparent with the River Cats, although his 2.22 strikeout-to-walk ratio could surely see improvement. With his outstanding fastball that averages in the mid-90s paired with his two-pitch off-speed arsenal, Figueroa could eventually find himself in a starter's role should the team elect to go that route. He might have the most explosive arm of any left-hander in the organization not named Sean Doolittle. His control will need to improve, however, but it's very likely he will be in the major league conversation come March. This was Figueroa's first season back after having Tommy John surgery in 2010.

Erick Threets was outstanding in relief for the River Cats in his 34 appearances. The 30-year-old lefty went 4-2 with a 1.84 ERA, despite walking almost four hitters per nine innings. But after failing to be promoted to the major leagues, Threets was granted his release and signed on with the Dodgers, who sent him to Triple-A Albuquerque. There, he finished the season allowing a 5.19 ERA in 18 appearances.

Once regarding as the most electric arm in the organization, Fautino De Los Santos struggled to meet those expectations thanks to an elbow injury he sustained during his first season in the A's organization (2008). He started the year in Oakland's bullpen, and even came into spring training in competition for the closer's role, but he was used sparingly and often allowed inherited runners to score.

After a demotion to Sacramento on April 25, De Los Santos' struggles with control continued. Despite striking out nearly 11 hitters per nine innings, his strikeout-to-walk ratio was still below three, making him one of the more frustrating cases in the A's system during the year. The Milwaukee Brewers ultimately decided his high upside was worth looking into, as De Los Santos was the player sent to Milwaukee in the deal that brought catcher George Kottaras to Oakland. De Los Santos improved dramatically once he got to Triple-A Nashville, cutting his walk rate drastically leading to a 1.98 ERA in 11 appearances.

Merkin Valdez led Sacramento with 22 games finished – although he only had five saves due to only getting eight chances. Throughout the year, he was one of the club's most consistent relievers, made evident by the number of times he was called upon to finish games. He allowed 33 hits in 36 innings and a 3.75 ERA. Valdez's downside is his age. The 31-year-old has bounced around baseball for a number of years, and it appears there is limited upside remaining despite his continued minor league success.

Arnold Leon took a positive step in 2012 after only making five appearances in the Arizona Rookie League in 2011. The right-handed reliever started the season with High-A Stockton and then moved up to Double-A Midland, where he boasted a 6.00 walk-to-strikeout ratio in 10 appearances before joining the River Cats' bullpen. There, he compiled a 1.77 ERA in 22 appearances, despite seeing a significant fall in his K-to-walk ratio. He walked 15 and whiffed 31.

Regardless, Leon is just 24, and has promising stuff that could project to the major leagues should he continue to improve his command and continue to be tough against right-handers. The A's will need make a decision over the next two weeks whether to protect Leon from the Rule 5 draft by adding him to the 40-man roster. Like Figueroa, Leon was in his first full season after 2010 Tommy John surgery.

Evan Scribner had outstanding measurables in Sacramento, allowing just 26 hits in 25.2 innings and striking out nearly four hitters for every walk. The former San Diego Padres prospect threw very well out of the A's bullpen during the second half of the season, allowing a 2.55 ERA and 1.18 WHIP in his 30 appearances, mostly coming in low-leverage situations.

Given the 27-year-old's demeanor and ability to throw strikes, Scribner is likely to resume his role in the A's bullpen next season, as the team grew increasingly comfortable with him as the season wore on. And after Balfour and Cook, there is plenty of room for quality right-handed relievers in the A's bullpen, which bodes well for Scribner.

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