Choosing Sonny Gray

Thearon W. Henderson

Wednesday afternoon, the Oakland Athletics held a special press conference, largely for the purpose of announcing their starting pitcher in Game 5 of their Division Series against the Tigers. All the good stuff came at the beginning:

Q. Bob, can you tell us who your pitcher is tomorrow and how you guys came to that decision?

BOB MELVIN: I can. Sonny Gray will start tomorrow night. Obviously we had two great options there with Bartolo. We looked at it a bunch of different angles, we have a lot of smart people in our front office and baseball operations and the short of it is, it came down to Sonny's last game that he pitched in similar conditions in our ballpark.

So that's the route we're going to go.

Let's play a little game of Compare-'n'-Contrast, shall we?

Sonny and Bartolo both pitch right-handed.

Sonny's a 23-year-old rookie; Bartolo is the opposite of that.

Including his Game 2 start in this series, Sonny Gray's pitched 72 innings in the majors this season. In those 72 innings, he's struck out 76 batters, walked 22, and given up four home runs.

Including his Game 1 start in this series -- and just since coming off the Disabled List in late August -- Bartolo Colon's pitched 42 innings. In those 42 innings, he's struck out 38 batters, walked four (!) and given up three home runs. A caveat: We're talking about only seven starts, and three of those were against the Astros, Twins, or Mariners.

The Tigers do rely on home runs. Gray, throughout his professional career, has been exceptionally stingy in that department. Since returning to the majors in 2011, Colon has been just fair in that regard. That's a point for Gray.

Gray's going to be starting on regular rest. Which doesn't mean anything that we know about. Colon would have been starting with extra rest ... but in his career, he's actually been slightly worse with extra rest than regular rest. There's just no reason to think he's any better than usual with the extra rest.

So we're finding very little difference between, no matter where we look. Let's go back to what Bob Melvin actually said ...

We looked at it a bunch of different angles, we have a lot of smart people in our front office and baseball operations and the short of it is, it came down to Sonny's last game that he pitched in similar conditions in our ballpark.

The short of it? Both pitchers have started once in this series, both games in Oakland -- the site of Game 5, too -- and Gray pitched better than Colon. Gray pitched eight innings and gave up only two hits, plus two walks. Colon pitched only six innings and gave up ten hits ... but as I'm sure the smart people in the Athletics' front office would tell you, Colon didn't walk anybody, or give up any home runs.

Here's the real short of it: Today, the A's believe one of two things. One, something that happened just a week ago tells us something important. Or two, Sonny Gray is, for one reason or another, fundamentally a better pitcher than Bartolo Colon. What I think is that the A's might be overreacting, just a little, to what happened last week. And at the same time, management's encouraged by all the good work turned in by the youngsters this month.

There's not a wrong answer here. Not that we can find, from this distance. It's a crap shoot. No matter what Gray does, one won't reasonably have much grounds to question the decision. And anyway, it'll all be moot if the A's can't score a few runs off Justin Verlander. Who's still better than Sonny or Bartolo. Whichever of them is better.

For much more about the A's and their postseason run, please visit SB Nation's Athletics Nation.

More from Baseball Nation:

Hey, remember when Adam Wainwright was in trouble?

Walking the bases loaded ... intentional?

Game 5’s blown call that wasn’t

Were the D’backs short on frontier justice?

Max Scherzer’s 17-pitch dance with death

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