Dan Straily, 2014 breakout candidate

Look for a strong season in 2014 for Oakland’s Dan Straily. (zimbio.com)

The Oakland Athletics were eliminated from the playoffs recently at the hands of Justin Verlander and the Detroit Tigers. It will take some time for A’s fans to get over yet another game five playoff loss. Still, there is hope for next year. I want to focus on one player in particular, right-handed pitcher Dan Straily, who threw game four, as I think he could really emerge in 2014.

Straily’s game-four outing was stained by the three-run homer he surrendered to Jhonny Peralta. Nevertheless, he was sharp, and his eight strikeouts were the second most of his career. Despite throwing only 76 pitches, Straily generated 14 whiffs, including a career-best six with his change-up.

It’s not just the swing-and-miss stuff he displayed against the Tigers that has me thinking Dan Straily could break out in 2014. Of the 96 pitchers who threw at least 150 innings in 2013, only seven had a higher whiff rate than Straily. His whiff rate was better than elite pitchers Chris SaleFelix Hernandez and Stephen Strasburg.

Of course, his walk rate was slightly higher than the major-league average, and only seven pitchers possessed a lower groundball rate. Oakland’s cavernous ballpark and athletic outfielders helped suppress Straily’s HR/FB ratio.

Overall, Dan Straily’s numbers in 2013 were unremarkable. His ERA and FIP were average, and the lack of ground balls left him with a pedestrian 111 xFIP. Despite all the whiffs, Straily’s strikeout rate was not any better than the average for starting pitchers.

Straily was drafted in the 24th round in 2009. As you would expect from someone drafted that late, he came with much less polish than most college pitchers. He wasn’t much more than a big guy with a fastball. While most players drafted that late are out of baseball within two or three years, Straily has steadily improved.

With the development of a slider, Dan Straily started putting up impressive strikeout rates in the minors. However, the development of his change-up was a long and arduous process. He seems to have settled on a grip, and his growing comfort with the pitch has helped him reduce his platoon splits. In 2013, the pitch had a 16.9 percent whiff rate, an improvement from the prior year. Verlander’s change-up has a 14.3 percent whiff rate in his career. Furthermore, the latest version of Straily’s change has produced more ground balls when hitters make contact.

Dan Straily already has a strong slider, so if his change-up continues to mature, he will be tough to hit in 2014. The strikeout rate will improve. Whiff rate is actually more predictive of future strikeout rate than strikeout rate itself. He probably won’t be among the top 10 starters in strikeout rate, but Straily will be better than average in that category. His tendency to pitch up in the zone isn’t so bad at the Coliseum, and the A’s outfielders swallow up many of those flies.

Dan Straily beat the odds to reach the majors by making steady improvements each year. He will be only 25 by the time the 2014 season rolls around. Combine further improvements with some positive regression for his strikeout rate, and Straily appears to be poised for a strong 2014 campaign.

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