One of many new faces looking to make a good first impression, Chris Bassitt stumbled out of the gate at the start of his first season with the Oakland A’s. The right-hander admitted to over-throwing during spring training, and it resulted in some ugly numbers. He allowed nearly a run an inning (13 in 13.1 innings) and had a 1.73 WHIP.
Bassitt was one of four players acquired by the A’s from the Chicago White Sox for Jeff Samardzija and Michael Ynoa last December. Although not a high-profile prospect, Bassitt had put up impressive career numbers in the minor leagues with the White Sox. He is one of those rare pitchers who began his pro career as a reliever but was able to make a successful transition to starting. Bassitt’s 2014 season was truncated by injuries, but he threw 29 innings for the White Sox as part of a September call-up and then pitched well during the Arizona Fall League. He came into the 2015 season with a minor league career ERA near 3.00 and a K-rate near a batter an inning.
After the poor showing in spring training, the A’s sent Bassitt back to Triple-A to start the year. It didn't take him long to get back to being the pitcher the A’s sought out in their trade with the White Sox during the off-season. By the end of the year, Bassitt was one of the A’s most effective starters and he finished the season in a strong position to be a big part of the A’s 2016 pitching staff.
Chris Bassitt, 2015 Stats
Bassitt allowed five runs (four earned) in his first start for Triple-A Nashville. After that, he didn’t allow more than four runs in any start and he gave-up two runs or less in seven of his 13 outings with the Sounds. He finished the Triple-A portion of his season with a 3.65 ERA and a 70:19 K:BB in 69 innings. Bassitt allowed just one homerun and he held PCL batters to a .230 average.
Early in the season, Bassitt found himself going back-and-forth between the A’s and Triple-A. In late April, Bassitt joined a beleaguered A’s bullpen. He made five relief appearances for the A’s before being sent back to Nashville to continue to be stretched out as a starter. In those five outings, Bassitt allowed four runs in 10.2 innings (3.38 ERA). He struck-out eight and walked nine.
Bassitt returned to the A’s in late June, but this time as a starter. Bassitt would make one more return trip to Nashville in mid-July, but after two weeks, he returned to the A’s roster for good on July 26. A sore shoulder would limit Bassitt’s work in September, but when he was healthy, he was a regular part of the A’s starting rotation for the final few months of the season.
Before the shoulder injury, Bassitt was outstanding for the A’s as a starter. He allowed as many as four runs only once in 10 outings – and that was his last start before landing on the DL. He had a 2.59 ERA during that stretch and averaged more than six innings a start. He struck-out 43 and walked just 14.
After his time on the DL, Bassitt wasn’t nearly as sharp. He finished the year with three post-DL outings and he allowed 11 runs in 12.2 innings. Bassitt struck-out 10 and walked seven. He did go six innings in his last outing of the year, but that was the outing that he walked a season-high five batters.
Bassitt’s stuff, when healthy, was as impressive as his numbers. He threw as many as five different pitches, relying most on his sinker and slider, but also using a four-seam fastball, a curveball and a change-up. His velocity averaged just a shade under 95 MPH when he was throwing a fastball to 72 MPH when he was throwing a curveball, and with plenty of variety in-between with his change-up (average 84) and slider (average 88). His pitches got plenty of movement, as well.
When he came back from the injury, Bassitt was throwing just as hard as he was before the injury. In fact, his off-speed pitches were even harder than they were before the injury, which is probably why he was hit harder given that the velocity differential diminished. The line-drive percentage on his slider was significantly higher after the injury than before the injury.
Despite the month on the DL and the time spent in the A’s bullpen early in the season, Bassitt still racked up 155 innings between Triple-A and the big leagues.
Anytime a pitcher has a shoulder injury, there is cause for concern, but the fact that Bassitt was able to come back at the end of the season and with his good velocity is a likely sign that he is fine physically. Assuming that he is healthy going into spring training, he will be one of the favorites to be part of the A’s starting rotation given how well he pitched in 2015.
Bassitt is an interesting commodity because he is 27 and yet seems to be just now tapping into his full potential as a pitcher. He has a power arsenal but his change-up was particularly effective and his pitch-mix is so deep, it can keep hitters off-balance two or three times through a line-up. However, Bassitt has also shown that he can pitch well out of the bullpen, and it isn’t hard to imagine him as a dominating reliever with his mix of off-speed, his power sinker and his ability to throw in the high-90s with his four-seam fastball.
Bassitt’s career-high in innings pitched is 159 (done in 2013), so it remains to be seen whether he can give the A’s 200+ innings as a full-time starter. He has also had injury issues the past two seasons and has a high-effort delivery. Given those factors, his long-term home could end up being in the bullpen. The A’s are likely to try to keep Bassitt as a starter unless it becomes clear that his health would improve as a reliever, however.