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Colon or Gray?

October 9, 2013

The A’s still have no announced starter for tomorrow’s deciding Game Five with TBD still set to face Justin Verlander and the Tigers. The question is do the A’s go with Bartolo Colon or do they go with Sonny Gray? I love Sonny but this start should go to Colon and the following is why.

1) Colon should start Game One in Boston and the veteran would be better to handle the pressures of such a game so start Sonny. This is the weakest argument of the bunch, simply because who starts Game One of the ALCS is irrelevant if you don’t get to Game One of the ALCS. The A’s have to win this game, looking at pitching matchups for the ALCS is a fool’s errand aside from not using every single one of your starters to the point of tiring them in this game. About the only thing I’d say is regardless of the win or go home, the A’s have to choose Colon or Gray and can’t do both with concerns that Jarrod Parker may be shelved with arm fatigue for the ALCS should the A’s get there.

2) Colon struggled against the Tigers in Game One. Did he now? Yes he lost. Yes he gave up three runs in six innings. Yes he surrendered 10 hits. But overall FIP liked him at 2.21 and Colon had not pitched since September 27th in Seattle a week off so taking an innin g to get into a groove makes sense even if it was an inopportune time to need a brush up. Not counting the first inning he allowed just six hits, not great but hardly the issue he had previously and his FIP was 1.60. He really pitched well and got beat up in one inning, his first in a while. Big deal.

3) Colon was your best starter all year long. If Oakland had an ace it was Colon. Could Gray be that ace going forward? Quite possibly yes, but a large reason the A’s are in the postseason in 2013 lies with the right arm of one Bartolo Colon. Colon was worth 3.9 WAR as he threw 190 1/3 innings of 5.5 K/9, 1.4 BB/9 and 0.7 HR/9 baseball for a second best in the AL 2.65 ERA and a 3.23 FIP. You want your best on the mound when it matters. Jim Leyland had a win or go home last night and the Tigers used Max Scherzer in relief (with some serious success as he pitched himself out of a jam) he is now using his best available in Game Five. Bob Melvin should do the same.

4) But Gray matched Verlander pitch for pitch in Game Two. Andrew Albers. Henderson Alvarez. Zach Britton. Jeremy Guthrie. Tommy MiloneJose Quintana. Mike Pelfrey. Danny Salazar. Danny Duffy – twice! These are all starters who kept up with Verlander to the point that their team won the game – Verlander and Detroit also lost to far superior pitchers as well – but the point is in baseball anyone can beat or just keep up with anyone else any given day – lest we forget the winning pitcher wasn’t Gray but rather Grant Balfour in Game Two. It is quite possible that that was Gray’s one shot at Verlander and they drew to a tie. Right now head-to-head you have to go with who gives you the best shot and be conservative. Gray had never faced the Tigers, now he has, the element of surprise is gone. Colon has faced these players far more and they know what to expect and though he hasn’t pitched amazingly against them in his career (5.40 ERA in 156 2/3 innings), he has pitched very well at the Coliseum (2.93 ERA in 224 1/3 innings) and has pitched well in the postseason 3.70 ERA in 58 1/3 innings. Do I like that track record more than Gray’s for one game? Frankly, I do. When we watched Gray pitch in Game Two we all watched him throw 11.1% of his entire MLB inning total.

5) Gray would face the Tigers for a second outing in a row. I feel that Gray’s success was closely tied to the Tigers’ unfamiliarity with him. They’d seen tape but that isn’t the same as seeing the real thing and as a result Detroit struggled. That isn’t true anymore. How did Gray do facing guys a second time? August 15th he faced Houston (8 IP, 0 ER, 4 H, 1 BB, 9 K) saw them again on September 5th (8 IP, 2 ER (3 R), 7 H, 1 BB, 7 K). September 11th he faced the Twins (5 IP, 2 ER, 4 H, 3 BB, 7 K), September 22nd he sees them again (5 IP, 4 ER, 7 H, 2 BB, 3 K). Only against the Mariners was his second outing (September 29th: 5 IP, 0 ER, 3 H, 3 BB, 8 K) better than the first (August 20th: 7 IP, 2 ER, 2BB, 7K) but by that point five weeks had passed. Now within the game Gray seems to improve and really learn from past at bats at the first time through guys hit .289/.341/.398 and that declines to .195/.300/.299 a second time before falling to .172/.169/.224 as third time through but again the A’s can’t afford to get behind early, and teams that have adjusted within a matter of days have thus far at least hit well off of the young Gray.

You just need to go with your best pitcher. The pitcher who if this game was played 1,000 times would win more often than not any else is needlessly rolling the dice. It is win or go home, not win and get another shot. Go with the guy who got you there. That guy is Colon.

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