How does Oakland do it? I know the stadium is ideal and I know that Moneyball tactics help set the precedent, but how does Oakland churn out no-name pitcher after no-name pitcher that end up having success in the Majors?
Before the start of the season, the pitcher under-the-radar in Oakland that had all the buzz was Brad Peacock, but a 6.17 AAA ERA thus far is keeping him from the Majors. Enter A.J. Griffin, a 13th-round pick in 2010’s Draft, to the never-ending supply of successful Oakland pitchers.
Through 6 starts, Griffin has thrown nothing but quality starts with a 29:8 K:BB ratio in 36 innings. Pitching in the AL’s pitcher-friendliest park, Griffin’s brought a sub-1.00 WHIP from stints in both AA and AAA and continues to keep the bases clear in the Majors, with a 0.98 WHIP and a 2.51 ERA.
A guy I knew virtually nothing about, I decided to tune into his start last night against the Rays to see how his stuff looks pitch-by-pitch, and see just how strong a pitcher Griffin really is and how much impact O.co Coliseum is having on his success:
First Inning: A.J. Griffin starts the game with a 90-MPH fastball painting the outer edge on Desmond Jennings. The big righty is usually right at 90-MPH, but I haven’t seen him pitch before for a full outing. He again paints the zone to get up 0-2, then goes with his curveball that is grounded down the third base side, but Brandon Inge bobbles it and Jennings reaches on an error to start the game. The first pitch to B.J. Upton is a fastball outside that Upton reaches for and lines out to right, one down. Griffin again paints the fastball on the inside edge on Ben Zobrist at 89-MPH to again get ahead, 0-1. If he can locate the fastball like that, it’s going to be a long night. Zobrist fouls one off, then Griffin almost gets the outside corner with that well-located fastball, but it’s 1-2. Zobrist gets back to 2-2, then Griffin throws a perfect change-up on the outer edge that might have been in the zone, but either way Zobrist goes for it and can’t hold his swing, and Griffin gets his first K. Griffin again is ahead of the batter with the change-up, this time to Jeff Keppinger. Griffin hits close to the same spot but a little further in with his fastball and gets Keppinger to pop out in the infield. Great series of two pitches there to get in on his hands and force the pop up.
Second Inning: Griffin is again able to paint the upper, inner edge with the fastball to get ahead of Matt Joyce, 0-1. Man, if Griffin consistently paints the zone with the first pitch like that, he’s going to have a bright future. A change-up is outside, then Joyce pops out to third, one down. Griffin again is perfectly on the outer edge, then back to the inner edge with the heater to get ahead of Ryan Roberts, 0-2. A curveball is outside then a fastball a bit too far in and it’s 2-2. Griffin goes back in the zone with the fastball and gets Roberts to ground out to third. Griffin again throws a perfectly placed pitch, this time a 69-MPH curveball, on the outer edge for strike one on Carlos Pena. These are some pretty unreal first-pitch strikes he’s throwing right now, as he’s been ahead of every hitter thus far. Pena works it to 2-2 as Griffin is in and out of the zone, then he pulls the string on a nasty 80-MPH change-up that has Pena out in front for his second strikeout and second hitless and walkless inning.
Third Inning: After picking up two runs of support off of the tough to hit David Price, Griffin starts the third with a change-up in the upper part of the zone that Molina swings through, again ahead 0-1. Griffin is a tad high, then drops in a curveball that Molina fouls off, 1-2. Griffin again goes with the curveball at 67-MPH, this time further off the plate and dipping lower. Molina swings through it, one down and three Ks. Griffin’s body motion is fantastic providing deception with that pitch — he gears up and throws it very violently but the curve is sub-70 MPH. Griffin yet again is ahead, painting the fastball on Sean Rodriguez, 0-1. However, Griffin is outside of the zone, albeit barely, on three straight pitches, then overthrows the heater just a tad and it’s way low, giving up his first walk. Griffin’s first fastball to Jennings is a tick outside, falling behind for the first time today. Griffin is again outside and out comes catcher Kurt Suzuki for a quick chat after six straight balls. Griffin works fast and may have been working a tad too fast. The next pitch is ripped by Desmond Jennings way back to left, but it’s well foul, 2-1. Jennings was locked on that 2-0 fastball. Griffin’s next fastball sails way high, 3-1. Griffin’s control is getting a tad shaky. Griffin goes with a high fastball, and gets Jennings to pop it back, caught by Suzuki in foul ground. The first pitch to Upton is outside, but then Griffin drops a perfect curve in there, 1-1. Man, if Griffin can keep that pitch going and regains that feel for the hitter, he’s going to be tough. Griffin loses another pitch to get it 3-1, but the next high fastball gets Upton to fly out very lazily to center to end the inning. Upton really wanted that one back, dropping a huge F-bomb easily heard on the broadcast.
Fourth Inning: After two straight dominant innings, followed by a shaky third control-wise, Griffin starts the 4th with a 79-MPH change-up outside, 1-0. Griffin hits the bottom of the zone with the fastball 1-1, then is back outside, 2-1. Griffin tries to come inside with the change, but it’s too far in, 3-1. The Rays are again swinging on the 3-1, but this time Zobrist handles the fastball and pounds it up the middle for a leadoff single. Griffin flashes some pretty nice agility with his pickoff move to first; it’s not going to be too easy to run on him. Griffin gets ahead of Keppinger 0-1, then goes with the painting heater at 89-MPH on the outer edge, 0-2. Griffin drops in a curveball that Keppinger rolls to third and Inge throws out Zobrist on a nice play. Runner still on first, one down. The first pitch to Joyce is a change-up way inside and low in the dirt, 1-0. That’s a bad miss for Griffin; he’s been all around the zone pretty much every first pitch until that one. Griffin misses with two more pitches, 3-0. Griffin tries to paint the outer edge and misses by a millimeter for a four-pitch walk. Tough to see a guy with impeccable control all the sudden not able to find the zone. Runners at first and second with one down and Griffin again is behind 1-0 on Roberts. Griffin rears back a fastball at 89-MPH that Roberts swings through, then he misses with a curveball bending through the zone, 2-1. Roberts swings through a high fastball, then Griffin gets him to look at a big breaking ball that buries itself in the zone for Griffin’s 4th K. Griffin starts Pena with a nice changeup inside and low that Pena swings through, 0-1. Griffin then misses his spot badly with the fastball right down the middle that Pena hammers to the gap and scores both the runners. Tie game now at 2-2. With Griffin’s fastball at 89 to 90-MPH, he can’t afford to miss his spot in the zone. Griffin falls behind of Molina with a curveball barely out of the zone, but evens with the fastball, 1-1. He’s low for 2-1, then gets Molina to ground out on a slider to end the inning, but with two earned runs in.
Fifth Inning: Griffin hopes to rebound after a tough 4th and gets a slider in the zone to get ahead of Rodriguez, 0-1. That slider looks like a pitch still a work in progress with minimal break, but if he can get it in the zone here and there it will help his arsenal. Griffin gets it to 1-2, then one is fouled off before a perfect curveball dropping through the zone at 67-MPH that Roberts swings through for his fifth strikeout. Griffin again gets ahead of Jennings, then the 1-1 is swung through on a fastball, 1-2. Griffin looks like he’s back on this inning, showing some good confidence. The count goes to 2-2 and Jennings rips a hanging slider to the warning track, but it’s caught by Seth Smith for a loud second out. That would have been a home run in several other parks. That slider just isn’t good enough in a 2-2 count, and Griffin again hangs a breaking pitch to start Upton, this time the curveball, that Upton rips deep, but foul. Maybe he’s losing that confidence. Upton fouls another off to make it 0-2, then after two balls Griffin gets another curveball to break into the dirt and Upton swings at it to end the inning on Griffin’s 6th K.
Sixth Inning: Griffin’s first pitch of the sixth is a fastball that Zobrist crushes to right, but it’s caught right at the base of the wall by Josh Reddick. Saved by the park again on that one. 1-0 on Keppinger and he gets under one that’s caught easily in center by Cespedes, two down on three pitches. Griffin floats his slow curve over into the zone to get up 0-1, then he misses outside with the change, 1-1. Griffin gets the change over 1-2, misses low to make it 2-2, then Griffin tries to go with the high heat and Joyce crushes the 91-MPH fastball for a home run. Griffin just doesn’t have enough velocity to blow hitters away, and Joyce gets the better of him. Griffin then gets Roberts to fly out lazily to center on the first pitch, and it’s a quick inning, but Griffin gives up a homer.
Seventh Inning: Back out there and Griffin misses low on Pena, 1-0. Griffin misses again, then is in there with the fastball, 2-1. Griffin then gets Pena to ground one into the shift, but it’s the deepest part with Weeks making the play in the outfield and Pena slides into first for a single. Tough hit to give up there. Griffin gets ahead of Molina with a fouled off curveball, 0-1. On the 1-1, Griffin throws his best slider of the night, 1-2. That slider looked MLB-worthy as opposed to his others. Griffin again goes with that slider, but this time it barely breaks and Molina singles to right. Carlos Pena tries to advance to third, but a perfect throw by Josh Reddick nails him. Reddick is such an impressive right fielder; he’s made so many great plays with his arm. Rodriguez gets to 1-1, then the 1-2 is Griffin’s slow curveball; Molina tries to steal and is thrown out at second. Griffin’s curveball is so slow that’s it’s a great pitch to run on, but Jose Molina? Trying to steal? Really? The 1-2 to Rodriguez is flied out lazily to left, and the inning is over. Man, talk about unforced errors wiping away two singles. And with that crazy inning the night is over for Griffin, who earns a no decision as the A’s win on a Weeks sacrifice fly in the 15th.
Final Line: 7 Innings ND 104 Pitches (63 Strikes)
5 Hits 2 Walks 3 Runs 6 Ks
Final Analysis: A mediocre outing from Griffin, but it’s yet another quality start for the rookie as now all seven of his starts have been. It’s been a pretty nice run for Griffin, but I don’t think this is close to keeping up.
Griffin had three or four monster foul balls ripped by Rays hitters sitting on pitches, and they also had two monster fly balls caught on the track saved by the spacious O.co Coliseum. With a fastball at 89 to 90-MPH, a good, but not great change and curveball, and a pretty bad slider, Griffin just doesn’t have the power stuff to keep getting hitters out once they start seeing him multiple times. The confines of Oakland saved him some damage, but on the road I would be horrified to start him.
With pretty mid-range stuff, Griffin is a streamer at best right now. I know he’s been playing well and gets to pitch in Oakland, but I would only play him at home against weaker offenses. He showed some great command early on, but if he misses his spots at all, he’s going to walk batters or miss in the zone and get hammered. I see a rough stretch coming soon for the rookie.
I don’t expect any of Griffin’s numbers to maintain, as probably everybody would assume, but I don’t think Griffin will be even close to the numbers he’s showing now when the season is over. I could see you playing him in spot starts at home, but I wouldn’t play him otherwise.