The A’s Have Made an Exciting Discovery by Jeff Sullivan August 23, 2016 Here’s a little game for you to play: Try to name, off the top of your head, the current Oakland A’s starting rotation. It’s not so easy. It’s not even easy for me, and I’m the guy on staff in charge of the A’s team depth chart. Sonny Gray is sidelined. Rich Hill is gone. Henderson Alvarez never showed up. On and on it goes. The upside is that, at this point, the rotation doesn’t matter much, since Oakland’s games don’t matter much. The downside is that Oakland’s games don’t matter much, partly because a quality rotation never came together. Yet in some ways it can be liberating when everything goes wrong. You get to experiment as an organization a little more, because you don’t have to put up with the burden of stakes. You can try things out, just to see, and for no other reason or reasons. Because of the way things have gone, the A’s have had to scramble for pitching help. Monday, they got six shutout innings from an unlikely starter against the Indians. That starter? Andrew Triggs. It’s important to me that you know two things. One: Yes, I’m a little biased, because I wrote Triggs up in the middle of March. I liked him then as a waiver claim, because I thought he could be of real use in a big-league bullpen. I never thought he’d be starting in the majors in 2016. Two: This post wasn’t actually my idea. I wasn’t just sitting here waiting for Triggs to do something terrific. This idea was recommended to me by Dave, and I’m more than happy to follow through. I thought Triggs was interesting in March. He’s even more interesting now. Before this year, Triggs had started one game as a professional. It was a spot start, a temporary assignment. He was a career reliever, and he seemed to profile like a career reliever. Working to his benefit was that he was a righty with this insane release point: The A’s claimed Triggs from the Orioles and, sure enough, he relieved. He did serve more as a long reliever. In Triggs’ third big-league assignment, he worked two frames. A week and a half later, he worked three. Triggs was never a high-profile arm, and he had this problem with giving up hits. That’s bad for a pitcher. But Triggs has mostly stuck around, and more recently, the A’s have stretched him out. On August 11, as a starter, he threw 66 pitches. The next time out, he threw 75. Monday, he threw 89. Monday, Andrew Triggs was indistinguishable from a quality, proven big-league starting pitcher. Even though the A’s lost, it wasn’t Triggs’ fault. As a matter of fact, now that I look at this, this is improbable: In games where Triggs has pitched, the A’s are 1-21. You could say he’s been a bad-luck charm. But he’s also turning into a fascinating find. Between long relief and the rotation, Triggs is just shy of 50 major-league innings. There are 320 pitchers who have thrown at least 40 major-league innings. Here are some Triggs rankings: FIP-: 79th percentile xFIP-: 83rd Hard-hit rate: 87th Z-Swing – O-Swing: 85th Triggs’ ERA is slightly inflated, but we all understand that ERA can be misleading, and Triggs has also pitched in front of maybe the worst defense in baseball. He deserves some level of forgiveness. He’s avoided a bunch of hard contact, and he’s a groundball pitcher, thanks to that low arm slot. The strikeouts are there, and the strikes are there, and opponents have had some predictable issues: He’s done such a great job for us. His changeup has come a long way. I’m hearing comments from the other team. They’re saying, “Man I can’t pick up where the ball is coming from. I can’t pick his arm slot. He’s doing a great job.” Because of Triggs’ unusual delivery, he has some deception. Or, if you prefer, funk. Maybe this is one of those things that gets adjusted to in time. But then, it’s not like exposure has allowed hitters to get comfortable against Chris Sale. Jered Weaver has always been deceptive, and at this point deception is probably all he has. Triggs’ delivery is a selling point. It’s also what’s responsible for his sinker. Going in on a lefty: Going away against a lefty: When you watch that and try to think of any other comparable starters, Justin Masterson might come to mind. Sure enough, by PITCHf/x data, Masterson’s sinker is almost Triggs’ sinker’s twin. Masterson also had that low, exaggerated arm slot, and he cut it as a starter for a while. With Masterson, though, there was a big problem: Somewhat unsurprisingly, he was never consistently good against lefties. He never developed a full repertoire, so he was a sinker/slider reliever trying to masquerade as a six-inning starter. Masterson, for his career, struck out just 15% of lefties. This is where Triggs is extra interesting — by that split, he’s presently up at 24% strikeouts. He has actually struck out a higher rate of lefties than righties. It’s still early in Triggs’ career, but he might not be doomed to the Masterson profile. Masterson wasn’t even bad. But Triggs has other pitches. Of course, he does come armed with a slider, and it’s a Frisbee: That’s a pitch Triggs has had for a while. It’s almost a necessity for someone who throws like he does. The horizontal movement is extreme, yielding a huge difference between the fastball and the breaking ball. But Triggs also fills up the middle. Between his sinker and his slider, there’s his cutter: And now, to go with his cutter, there’s his changeup: The changeup is new, because starting is new, but that changeup is great, and Stephen Vogt has seen it look real good. Even without the change, Triggs had three pitches he trusted. Three pitches at three speeds, to righties and lefties, both. Masterson tried to get by with two fastballs and a slider. Triggs’ pitches cover more area, and if the changeup really does come along, I’m not sure what else there is. For the A’s, it’s been a horrible season. It’s also way too soon to declare that Andrew Triggs, at least, is a real starting pitcher. He hasn’t reached 90 pitches in a game yet, and he hasn’t proven himself over a number of months. As is always the case with these pitchers, there’s no substitute for time. But just look at where things are. It wasn’t expected that Triggs would be starting in the first place. Now that he is, he’s up to showing four pitches, three of which he’s trusted for a while now. He profiles like Justin Masterson, but like a Justin Masterson who could be better against opposite-handed bats. Justin Masterson without a huge platoon split is, what, a No. 2? I don’t know. But I know the A’s would love to find out.