After three straight playoff appearances between 2012-14, the Oakland Athletics made a few moves that left some feeling perplexed last offseason, such as trading Josh Donaldson and Jeff Samardzija. Although it was hard not to wonder if Billy Beane had worked his magic and put the A’s in a position to contend yet again, the team stumbled all the way to a last-place finish in the AL West in 2015.
There were, however, at least a couple of bright spots for Oakland. Perhaps the biggest positive was the performance of All-Star right-hander Sonny Gray.
In just his second full season in MLB, the now 26-year-old Gray posted a 14-7 record, a 2.73 ERA, a 1.08 WHIP and a 147 ERA+ through 208 innings. He finished third in the AL Cy Young voting, trailing only Dallas Keuchel and David Price.
Since first coming to the big leagues back in 2013, a season in which he threw only 64 innings, Gray ranks 13th among American League pitchers with an 8.4 fWAR. Over that same time span, he also ranks ninth among all starters in the game with an excellent 54.3 percent ground ball rate.
Heading into this coming season, it goes without saying that the A’s have a true No. 1 ace in Gray, but when looking at the rest of their projected rotation, there are plenty of question marks after him. For example, Jesse Hahn, Kendall Graveman and Chris Bassitt have only 406 big league innings between them and each missed time with injuries last season. Rich Hill is a 35-year-old journeyman.
Right now, there are many who are not exactly optimistic about the A’s going into 2016. As a matter of fact, Fangraphs is projecting that they will go just 79-83 and finish in last place in the AL West yet again. If the A’s are going to have any chance of defying those odds, they will need Gray to continue his dominance of the league.