Player Spotlight: Kirk Saarloos

Kirk Saarloos, a recent Sacramento River Cats call-up and former Houston Astro, will make his Oakland A's starting debut today against the Anaheim Angels. Adam Miller profiles the young righthander.

Kirk Saarloos is the other pitcher the A's acquired from Houston this year after deciding to keep Justin Duchscherer on the major league roster and designate Chad Harville for assignment. To Oakland's credit, they were able to parlay Harville for Saarloos, a pitcher that had fallen out of favor with the Houston regime. Let's take a look at what Saarloos has done so far:

Kirk Saarloos, 6'0", 185, RHP

Year

Team

Lg

Age

W/L

ERA

IP

H

R

ER

BB

K

HR

H/9

BB/9

K/9

HR/9

K/BB

2001

LEX

SAL

22

1-1

1.17

30.2

18

5

4

7

40

1

5.28

2.05

11.74

0.29

5.71

2002

RORCK

TEX

23

10-1

1.40

83.1

48

17

13

21

82

1

5.18

2.27

8.86

0.11

3.90

2002

NORL

PCL

23

2-0

2.25

16.0

12

4

4

2

19

1

6.75

1.13

10.69

0.56

9.50

2002

HOU

NL

23

6-7

6.01

85.1

100

59

57

27

54

12

10.55

2.85

5.70

1.27

2.00

2003

NORL

PCL

24

5-1

3.08

61.1

54

22

21

11

34

4

7.92

1.61

4.99

0.59

3.09

2003

HOU

NL

24

2-1

4.93

49.1

55

31

27

17

43

4

10.03

3.10

7.84

0.73

2.53

2004

NORL

PCL

25

0-2

15.43

7.0

17

15

12

1

6

4

21.86

1.29

7.71

5.14

6.00

2004

SAC

PCL

25

2-0

2.33

19.1

15

5

5

9

17

1

6.98

4.19

7.91

0.47

1.89



Saarloos wears number 31 in honor of his idol, Greg Maddux, who he models himself after in more ways than one. Like Maddux, Saarloos has an average fastball (high-80s), but his fastball has some good movement. Kirk complements his fastball with a plus slider and plus changeup. He succeeds by locating his pitches well and alternating pitches, speeds, and location to confuse hitters.

Saarloos was motoring through the Houston system, absolutely dominating hitters until being called up to the Astros in 2002. In 130 IP in A, AA, AAA in 2001-2002, Saarloos posted an ERA of 1.45 while striking out 141 batters, walking 30, and allowing only 78 hits and 3 homeruns; those numbers translate to outstanding rate stats of 9.76 K/9 and a 4.70 K/BB ratio. His career minor league ERA, through 2003, is a ridiculously low 1.99 in 190 IP.

Where Saarloos lost some of his luster was in his 134 major league innings in 2002 and 2003. Compared to his minor league performance, Saarloos' pitching declined considerably. Houston jerking him in and out of the rotation probably didn't help, and Minute Maid Park plays very well for hitters. Kirk actually did pretty well as a reliever in the majors, posting a 2.97 ERA in 36.1 innings, but his overall performance caused the front office to sour on him. Perhaps his career highlight came last season, as he was one of five pitchers for the Astros to combine to no-hit the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium.

After splitting the 2003 season between AAA New Orleans and Houston, Saarloos pitched terribly to begin the 2004 season in AAA New Orleans, prompting a trade to Oakland. It was later discovered that Saarloos was pitching with a broken finger on his pitching hand, and his numbers in Sacramento after recovering from the injury were more in line with his career minor league stats.

Saarloos was recently called up to Oakland to take the place of Tim Hudson, who was placed on the 15-day DL. He pitched in relief against the Giants last weekend, and will be making his first major league start of the year versus Anaheim on Thursday. The A's seem to realize his value as a starter/reliever, and hope to salvage what was once a very promising career. Although the 25-man roster is currently overrun with pitchers, it is possible that Saarloos could pitch his way into the 2004 bullpen with some strong performances (or a trade/demotion of one of the slumping relievers). Regardless of what happens in 2004, Saarloos is finally in an organization that appreciates what he can contribute, and that will help him grow into a quality middle-of-the-rotation pitcher or middle reliever.

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