Seven Is the Magic Number for A.J. Griffin

A.J. Griffin loses it in the middle innings

American League fans who do not know who A.J. Griffin is should probably do some homework.

Griffin is that Oakland A's starter with the flowing golden locks who fits in more on the set of Anchorman than on a baseball field. However, Griffin is the key to the Oakland rotation and will prove his worth once the playoffs roll around.

The A's rotation really does lack an ace and when the playoffs are in town, aces are what dominate series. I know you are thinking that Bartolo Colon is an ace right about now, but I just know that he will not be able to keep up this act all season. 

I'm not saying he will crash and burn, but Colon will not continue being THE guy all year. His heavy doses of fastballs will not be able to withstand the best offenses in the game at an ace level. It's definitely possible, but I have my doubts.

So, assuming Brett Anderson will get hurt again once he comes back — which is a fair assumption considering his track record with the disabled list — this team will be without a true ace in the playoffs. 

But what makes this rotation great is they have consistent, dependable guys. Headed by Colon, Jarrod Parker, and Tommy Milone, (who is struggling as of late, but I expect him to be back to form by October) you always know what you are going to get. But where most rotations falter is the back-end.

With Griffin, the A's have a guy as dependable as their headliners and that will prove to be monumental in the playoffs. But after seeing a stat on the CSN Bay Area telecast of a recent A's game in which Griffin started, my trust may be beginning to dwindle.

The stat read that in Griffin's first 21 starts this year, he had maintained a 1.57 ERA in innings 1-3. In innings 4-6, however, his ERA has boomed to a 7.06. But in innings 7-9, his ERA is again a dominant 0.68 ERA.

What could explain something as bizarre as that? He is dominant early in the game, typical for pitchers, but then melts down to atypical degrees in the middle innings, and somehow becomes even better than the first few frames in the late innings.

This is something that could become hazardous to Oakland's playoff aspirations because the bullpens are worn down by October and they cannot have a Griffin meltdown in the fourth inning in the playoffs.

So, what is causing Griffin to lose control of the game in the middle innings? To start off, we can cross off the idea that hitters are becoming accustomed to his stuff the second time around in the order because he is at his best when hitters see him a third time so that would not make sense.

What seems to be the problem with Griffin is that he is not pacing himself to go four to six innings. He is pacing himself to go the distance in every game he starts. 

When a pitcher knows his time in the game is about to end, he gives the hitters his best stuff because he knows he does not need to pace himself anymore. This usually results in a pitcher's best performance outside of the first and second inning.

So, in the seventh through ninth innings, Griffin is rearing back and giving his pitches his all. That is why he has been so dominant. But in the fourth through sixth innings, he is still saving his best stuff for the seventh through ninth innings, which for most people is not a very plausible game plan, but for Griffin, it has not seemed to hurt him too much.

With all of this said, Griffin is still having a nice season with a 10-8 record and a 3.91 ERA. The reason for this is because he has gone seven innings or more in nine of his 23 starts this season. On average, Griffin has gone 6.27 innings so those numbers aren't as menacing as if his average inning count was closer to five.

Thanks to his ability to give up minimal runs in the first three innings and almost zero runs in the late innings, there is room for a few hiccups in the middle innings.

Griffin's overall ERA would probably lower if he just let loose in the middle innings with the expectation that they are probably his last, rather than save it all up for the late innings that he most likely will not pitch in.

Griffin is an important cog in Oakland's pitching machine and if his middle inning hiccup in October is bigger than usual, his game plan will falter and so will the A's.

The lesson learned here is that Griffin needs to treat the fifth and sixth innings like they could be his last and let the magnificent Oakland bullpen take care of the rest. If he can do that, the Oakland rotation will prove to be a menacing weapon in the second-half push.

By: Matt Levine
Twitter: @Matt_TFJ

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