Losing Jarrod Parker to his second Tommy John surgery is not good news for the Athletics. He was slated to be in their rotation and serve as their ace, and now he'll miss the entire season while also having to deal with the recovery process possibly bleeding into the start of the 2015 campaign, depending on how the new ligament takes this time around.
Losing Jarrod Parker to his second Tommy John surgery is not the travesty it's being painted as for the Athletics, however. It's certainly not good to be without him, but this is not a season-crushing injury. Not yet.
Parker was a useful arm in 2013, when he tossed 197 innings -- second-most on the A's -- and tied for the team lead in games started at 32. If he was their ace, though, as many headlines, tweets, and even the A's themselves have suggested with the news he would miss 2014, though, it was only nominally. Parker produced a 3.97 ERA, which wasn't all that much better than the league-average for starters of 4.15, and is actually worse when you consider that O.co is one of the more pitcher-friendly parks around. Parker's ERA+, which adjusts for league and park difficulty, was below the league average at 94. A league-average-ish ERA combined with nearly 200 innings is productive, and that's why Baseball Reference listed him as being about two wins better than replacement, but it's not an ace by any stretch of the imagination. For comparison's sake, Bartolo Colon, who was with the A's last summer, produced a 141 ERA+ and five wins over replacement, and in seven fewer innings than Parker.
Besides Colon, the Athletics used many starting pitchers who were very similar in terms of their results in 2013. A.J. Griffin, who led the team in innings with 200, finished with a 97 ERA+. Dan Straily, like Parker, produced a 94. Tommy Milone, who didn't spend the entire year in the rotation but had the fifth-most starts, came in at 90. Coincidentally, Milone is the guy who will see rotation time once more now that Parker is out for all of 2014 -- he'll make the bullpen work another out or two more per game than Parker did, but otherwise, they're close enough that things could have been much worse for the A's with Parker out.
The most significant issue is that the A's have already had to look to their pitching depth before the season has even started. Parker might not have been an ace, but he did throw 197 innings last year, and counting on that again would have been lovely for an A's team that is relying on Scott Kazmir to stay both healthy and effective, the same Kazmir who threw just 158 innings for the Indians last year, and produced a 93 ERA+ that would have fit in quite well with last year's A's rotation. Now, the pressure is on 24-year-old right-hander Sonny Gray even more to take the leap in his first full big-league campaign: the A's almost need him to turn this upcoming season into a prorated version of his ace-like 64 innings from his debut, especially since they didn't sign anyone to reproduce what Colon gave them a year ago.
Losing Parker doesn't hurt that much today, but the A's are already in a place where reliever Jesse Chavez will start for them until A.J. Griffin returns from his own arm injury. If Griffin has a setback, or it turns out Kazmir isn't healthy, or Gray ends up going through his own young pitcher surgical initiation in the next few months, the loss of Parker will be felt strongly, because then the Athletics might have to turn to former prospect Drew Pomeranz. While Pomeranz has shown flashes of ability in his big-league career, and is now out of the harmful Coors Field environment, he's still no sure thing to replace whomever he's slated to.
With that being said, these terrible thoughts aren't guaranteed, either. Gray could continue to be excellent, as he has been during his pro career. Instead of Parker taking a step forward with another year of big-league experience under his belt, maybe it's Straily who forges ahead. Kazmir probably won't be Colon, but he could build on his stronger second half from his return season, and be an asset to the A's for 30 starts. Griffin could come back a month into the season after resting his arm and working back, and not feel a twinge in it for the rest of the year. Milone could perform a perfectly cromulent impression of Parker, and the combination of Chavez and Pomeranz could fill in well enough when needed for the A's wonderful offense to handle the rest -- the same offense, by the way, that led the A's and their average rotation to the playoffs a year ago.
The key point in all of this is that losing Parker is a negative, but he's been built up as something more than he is for some reason: The A's have competent replacements, and the loss of Parker doesn't hurt their 2014 playoff hopes any unless something else goes awry down the road. There's time yet for the Athletics to escape this unfortunate injury unscathed, and once again find themselves in October in the process.