This weekend, 8-10 May, the Jays find themselves in
Philadelphia Kansas City the San Francisco Bay area to take on the Athletics. Some folks thought the offseason trade for Matt Holiday and free agent signings of Jason Giambi and Orlando Cabrera would make the A's a strong candidate to win the American League West, but it hasn't looked very much like they have so far. The A's will be sending three lefties, none older than 25, to the mound this weekend. The series opens up late Friday night, when Scott Richmond twirls for the Jays against Josh Outman. Brian Tallet pitches against Brett Anderson on Saturday afternoon and the series concludes on Sunday when Brett Cecil make his second career start against Dallas Braden. Hopefully the Jays bats can heat back up in Bump City this weekend.
Outman (0-0, 4.41, 1.408 WHIP) was acquired from the Phillies last season in the Joe "Cupcakes" Blanton trade that enabled the overweight, and somewhat goofy, pitcher to hit a homerun in the 2008 World Series. The 24 year old lefty has made three starts so far this year and come out of the bullpen twice for a total of 16 1/3 innings this season. He's struck out 16 but has had some trouble finding the plate at times with seven walks already. Indeed, his second start this season was against the Jays and in just four innings he struck out five and walked four. Throughout the minors, Outman has had trouble with control (4.3 BB/9 overall) so what he's done so far has not exactly been an aberration. He did pitch well his last time out, however, going six innings and striking out five while walking just one. Although Outman has been an extreme flyball pitcher this year (49% flyball, 20% linedrive rate), at AA and AAA ball in 2008, he had a 47% groundball rate over 100 2/3 IP. This flyball tendency has led to four homers already so far (including one each by Hill and Scoot).
In his brief major league career with Oakland, Outman has absolutely dominated lefties (.179 / .220 / .308; 14 K, 2 BB), albeit they've only made 41 plate appearances against him. Righties, on the other hand, have absolutely destroyed him (.331 / .395 / .523; 10 K, 7 BB), this time in 147 plate appearances. This discrepancy is driven largely by luck (BABIPs of .364 vs righties and .250 vs. lefties) and small sample size, though the difference in K-rate could be significant. His minor league splits, as you might expect, are much less extreme (9.7 K/9, 4.0 BB/9 vs. lefties; 8.1 K/9, 4.4 BB/9 vs. righties).
Outman doesn't have a particularly devastating arsenal, but can get his fastball up into the low 90's, topping out around 93 or 94. He relies heavily on his slider (particularly against lefties) and mixing up his changeup (particularly against righties) to keep batters off-balance.
Anderson (0-3, 5.79, 1.500 WHIP) hasn't had the greatest 28 innings to start off his career, but the 21 year old still looking for his first win should develop into a fine pitcher with time. Baseball America has Brett Anderson ranked as the #7 prospect in all of baseball (right behind Travis Snider, by the way). Keith Law is a bit less bullish on him, ranking him #20, but either way he should develop into a fine pitcher over the next few years. Anderson skipped AAA, having spent most of 2008 at high A ball, where he was quite successful (9.7 K/9, 2.2 BB/9, 1.16 WHIP, 3.44 FIP) before being promoted to AA for six starts, where he was even better (11.0 K/9, 2.6 BB/9, 1.16 WHIP, 3.11 FIP). His difficulties in Oakland this year have stemmed from his inability to get strikeouts (just 14 K), but he's been able to keep his walks down (9 BB). He may be getting used to facing major league hitters, however, as he struck out five in just five innings (against two walks) his last time out.
As far as major league performance goes, Anderson has pitched a little better overall against lefties (.314 / .351 / .429; 6 K, 2 BB) than righties (.286 / .337 / .468; 8 K, 6 BB) in spite of his terrible luck against them (.357 BABIP vs. lefties). This platoon split was not seen in the minors, where Anderson dominated righties (9.6 K/9, 2.0 BB/9) just as much as lefties (9.4 K/9, 1.7 BB/9).
There have been concerns about Anderson's fastball, but he managed to get a few extra mph last year and can get it into the low 90's now, which should be just enough to keep batters honest and open things up for him to throw his offspeed stuff, which is more effective. Anderson's best pitch is his curveball, which has a 1:00 - 7:00 break. He throws a slurve-type slider as well.
Braden (3-3, 2.50, 1.389 WHIP) has not blown anyone away (just 24 K against 13 BB in 36 IP) but has managed to be effective so far. As a 25 year old who has 180 major league innings under his belt, he is the veteran of the A's starters this series. His bad luck from 2007 (6.72 ERA despite 6.4 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9) changed for the better in 2008 and has carried over into 2009. His insanely low (even in spacious Oakland Coliseum) 3.9 homeruns per fly ball will rise and his 81% strand rate will come back down. Nonetheless, notwithstanding his career ERA of 4.85 and WHIP of 1.494, Braden's managed to be relatively effective this season and as a junkballing lefty will probably give the Jays offense fits. To be fair, his strikeout rates in the minors were actually quite good, consistently at or above 10 K/9. Earlier this season, Braden baffled the Jays for 7 1/3 innings, striking out four, walking three and yielding just one run. Hopefully they can tag him a little better this time around.
Like most junkballers, Braden's had modest platoon splits. He's been pretty effective against lefties (.258 / .310 / .394; 2.82 K/BB) and has had a it more trouble against righties (.296 / .359 / .441; 1.68 K/BB). His strikeout rates were virtually the same against lefties (9.48 K/9) and righties (9.45 K/9), but he did a better job limiting his walks against them (1.7 BB/9 vs lefties, 2.5 BB/9 vs. righties).
Braden throws an 88 mph fastball. The less said about it, probably, the better. He really just uses the fastball to set up his screwball-type change (scrange?), which breaks down and away from righthanded batters. He's been working his slider the last few years and it is not such a bad pitch anymore, either.