Oakland Athletics' A.J. Griffin Translates Growth Into Career-Best Outing

By Thom Tsang
Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

Just who is A.J. Griffin in 2013? Inquiring minds want to know — or at least the Oakland Athletics do, in this case.

Is he the inconsistent pitcher who got shelled back of April 22 to the tune of nine runs on eight hits over just four innings, or is he the one who followed that up with seven innings of shutout ball on six hits just two starts after? Well, if his career-best outing on Wednesday was any indication, there’s a whole lot more to of the latter for the A’s to look forward to.

In a way, Griffin’s first major league career shutout over the Cincinnati Reds could be seen as a culmination of improvements that he’s made since an uneven start to the season.

You wouldn’t have thought him to be an emerging ace after he’d posted a 4.65/1.26 ERA over 31 innings in April, but that’s exactly the label that the soft-tosser has found himself with these days. Since the end of the first calendar month of the season arrived for righty, he’s trimmed his counting numbers to 3.55/1.13 in May, and finally to 2.60/0.89 in June.

Want more trends? No problem.

There’s also his BAA going from 244, to 241, all the way to .190 over the months, buoyed by a line drive rate that has gone down from 27.1 percent to 18.2, all the way to 11.9 in June. While he isn’t exactly stringing quality starts, the 25-year old had two turns out of his last five in which he allowed no runs.

The 11 before that? He did it just one time, and that game featured a lower game score than both of the scoreless outings in June.

In short, everything is going the right way for the sophomore, who has found considerable success with the introduction of a cutter that’s 2.5 runs above average. He’s throwing more strikes (52.2 percent over 49.9 in 2012), and is getting opponents to put the bat on outside pitches more often (77.2 percent vs. 67.1), leading to plummeting line drive rates.

Now, because that approach leads to an increased propensity to give up fly balls and thus home runs, you’d think that his currently success might not be altogether sustainable, as his 4.12 FIP and seemingly low .244 BABIP would indicate. Yet, it’s not as though he’s got an unreasonable strand rate at 75.3 percent, and playing at the O.co Coliseum won’t exactly exacerbate his fly ball issues, especially when they’re not hard hit.

Basically, Griffin making adjustments to make it work, and even if there’s really nowhere to go but down from the peak he reached on Wednesday, the landing is unlikely to be too hard.

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