No strikeouts, no problem for Aaron Cook


Despite going without a strikeout for the fourth time in five starts as a member of the Red Sox, Aaron Cook limited the White Sox to just an unearned run over seven innings in Boston’s 5-1 victory Monday.

The sinkerballing Cook has recorded a mere two strikeouts in 29 2/3 innings this season, both of which came in his two-hit shutout of the Mariners on June 29. He’s the only pitcher this year to go back-to-back starts without a strikeout, and he’s now done it twice. Despite that, he’s 2-2 with a 3.34 ERA. He has a 1.67 ERA in his four starts since coming off the DL last month.

Cook has certainly never been a strikeout pitcher, but he’s in some rare air indeed right now, averaging 0.61 strikeouts per nine innings. Min. 80 innings, here are the tiniest strikeout rates since 2000:

2.10 – Kirk Rueter (2005 Giants) – 25 K in 107.1 IP
2.13 – Nate Cornejo (2003 Tigers) – 46 K in 194.2 IP
2.51 – Kirk Rueter (2003 Giants) – 41 K in 147 IP
2.59 – Aaron Cook (2005 Rockies) – 24  K in 83.1 IP
2.65 – Kirk Rueter (2004 Giants) – 56 K in 190.1 IP
2.98 – Jimmy Gobble (2004 Royals) – 49 K in 148 IP
2.99 – Kirk Saarloos (2005 Athletics) – 53 K in 159.2 IP
3.01 – Jimmy Anderson (2002 Pirates) – 47 K in 140.2 IP
3.12 – Aaron Cook (2003 Rockies) – 43 K in 124 IP
3.14 – Chien-Ming Wang (2006 Yankees) – 76 K in 218 IP

Toronto’s Henderson Alvarez was in ninth place at 3.02 before striking out six in six innings tonight and  knocking himself out of the top 10.  Cook could join Rueter with three spots here if this keeps up.

2018 Preview: Oakland Athletics

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2018 season. Next up: The Oakland Athletics.

The A’s have finished last in the AL West for three straight years. If you believe the folks at Fangraphs and Baseball Prospectus and anyone else who makes projections, they’ll either finish in last again or come within a game or two of it. There’s not a lot of suspense to my prediction here — I’ll end up picking them to finish fifth — but the prediction is not really what a preview is about. It’s about the shape of the team and what we can expect in broad brushes.

While I can’t foretell greatness for the 2018 Oakland Athletics, I can’t say the broad brushes are bad. At least if you grade on a curve. It won’t be a good team, but they’ll be worth watching because they have a lot of good, fun and interesting players who are likely to be on that next good Oakland A’s team in the way Stephen Vogt and Brett Lawrie were not.

Their lineup is pretty spiffy for a second division team. Khris Davis, Matt Joyce and new acquisition Jonathan Lucroy are known commodities both inside and outside A’s fandom, but people who don’t pay much attention to the goings on in Oakland may not be fully aware of just how good and promising Matt Olson and Matt Chapman are. Olson hit 24 homers in 59 games last year. That’s not a sustainable pace — the league will figure him out to — but even regression from that will be fantastic. Chapman hit 14 in half a season and played superior defense at third base. He also struck out 92 times in half a season but who’s counting? [editor: everyone counts everything in baseball]. Hey, look, dingers! Yonder Alonso and Ryon Healey are gone from last year’s crew and Stephen Piscotty is new in town. Marcus Semien is a decent bat for a shortstop. All-in-all that’s a lineup that will play, and play very, very well if Chapman and Olson are what they’ve shown themselves to be thus far.

At the risk of criminal understatement, allow me to observe that the starting pitching is not as promising. Sean Manaea and Kendall Graveman are at the top of the rotation. On good teams they’d be in the middle or the back. The rest of their rotation options — Daniel Mengden, Andrew Triggs, Paul Blackburn, who will miss the start of the regular season with a sore forearm — are less-than-impressive. They just signed Trevor Cahill and Brett Anderson from the scrap heap hoping, I guess, to recreate some of that, uh, 2010 magic? 2010 was a long time ago!

Jharel Cotton would’ve been in the mix but he’s now out for the year for Tommy John surgery. A.J. Puk, the A’s top prospect would be a nice midseason upgrade, but he’s hurt. Not seriously, but the A’s will probably be more careful with him now than they would’ve been, which still would’ve been careful. All-in-all, there was a lack of quality arms to begin with, but with the injuries mounting, starting pitching could be a trash fire for the A’s.

The bullpen has a new look with newcomers Ryan Buchter, Yusmeiro Petit and Emilio Pagan joining 2017 in-season additions Blake Treinen and Chris Hatcher. That’s a pretty good and pretty interesting group which was going to see a lot of innings as it was in our new bullpenning era, but now that the rotation looks shaky as hell, they’ll see even more. If you’re curious about the limits of leaning on a bullpen, postseason-style are, Oakland will be running a pretty fun experiment to that end in 2018.

I look at this club’s bats — especially the young guys upon whom its so very easy to project so much promise and optimism, because I’m a sucker for hitting prospects — and think that they can outperform those statsy projections and be better than the Rangers and Mariners. Then I think about how the upside — UPSIDE! — for the rotation is 380 innings from Trevor Cahill and Brett Anderson and I sorta wanna cry.

If the A’s get some breaks and some unexpectedly good (or average) pitching performances, they could certainly finish above the cellar. Perhaps well above the cellar. For now, though, I’m guessing that they’ll be in 80-win territory at best and finish last in a division that does not have any teams totally punting, making for a competitive and, subsequently, tough year.

Prediction: Fifth place, AL West