When you think of great A’s pitchers of the last five years you may think of Mike Oquist, Jimmy Haynes, Mike Fetters, or maybe even Tim Hudson. Yet, amongst the recent Amazing A’s, one pitcher has, somehow, remained unappreciated. No, not Todd Van Poppel…rather, the recently departed, Gil Heredia.

Gil learns to dance…Steve Martin Style!
In an era when a lazy bum like Barry Bonds can hit 73 homers, you have got to respect a player that can manage a career ERA of 4.48. Gil won 28 games for the A’s in 1999 and 2000 combined, second only to All-Star Tim Hudson…which makes you wonder, why was Gil not selected to the All-Star game? The answer to such a seemingly complex question can be summed up in two words: Joe Torre. Gil was, dare I say…masterful when he faced Torre’s Yankees, losing only one game from 1998-2000 against them (2-1 overall record). As a result of Gil’s success against the Yankees, Torre was reluctant to select him to the All-Star team in 1999 or 2000.

Ape? Blowfish? No, just Gil.

Former A’s closer Jason Isringhausen blew nine saves in 2001 and now makes 7 million a year with the St. Louis Cardinals. Gil Heredia, on the other hand, blew zero saves in three years with the A’s, a truly astonishing feat. Yet, unlike Isringhausen, Gil does not demand the big bucks. In fact, he will probably accept a modest sub-million dollar paycheck from another team sometime during this off-season.

Gil had somewhat of a dissappointing 2001 season, winning “only” seven games. Gil never relied on a devastating fastball like many pitchers. Rather, he used his finesse and grace to dominate his opponents. Unfortunately, the finesse meter slipped from a 10 to an 8 during the 2001 season, causing Gil to be a little less effective. As a result, the A’s will not be bringing Gil back for the 2002 season as they make way for younger “better” talent…an obvious Schott and Hoffman conspiracy to destroy the franchise.

Gil Heredia, this is your life…we’ll miss ya buddy.

Pitching and defense win baseball games. Throughout history managers have maintained the theory “give me good starters and a good defense and we can win ball games.” That being said, the A’s lost, maybe, the most influential player on a team since Ken Griffey Jr. leaving the Mariners.

Losing Jason Giambi hurts, he was Mr. Clutch and he produced for a young team when they needed him the most. I am not going to say Giambi leaving the team depletes the A’s chances of winning 102 games again. After getting Pena from the Rangers, A’s fan will soon forget the first baseman formerly known as Giambi.

Well enough about the Fat Man, I wish him well and hope he does well for the Yankees. Now back to the most important thing, the team core is still intact. We have the best-left side of the infield in the history of baseball.

Offensive numbers for Eric Chavez and Miguel Tejada are downright amazing. Defensively Chavez is a gold glove winner. Tejada, though a tad erratic at times is a very solid shortstop with flair and dramatics to make great plays like Ozzie Smith. Once he learns to position himself better before the pitch is even thrown he could rack up a few Gold Gloves, especially once Mr. Vizquel in Cleveland decides to provide for him best baseball gloves. Now to main part the reason A’s can win 60% of their games: Zito, Hudson and Mulder. Hate to beat this topic to the ground, but this is my first article and I have to establish the ground rules of why I think A’s will win 100 games again.

Tim Hudson:

Perfect example of “size doesn’t matter” in baseball, his grit and tough guy attitude and surely made him a fan favorite and his take no prisoners attitude on the field has made him the nemesis for many hitters. Especially Nomar Garciaparra.

Who can forget the shouting match they had once Hudson struck him out and Nomar criticized him after the game that he does not challenge the hitters? The knock around the league on Hudson is that he doesn’t challenge the hitters.

What the hell kind of knock is that, the purpose of the game is to get guys out, if you can throw a 3-1 changeup and get a pop-out that doesn’t mean you are afraid that means you are a smart pitcher who knows how to get guys out?

Hudson who is barely over 5’10’, trust me he is not 6’0″. From personal experience and talking to him in the locker room, he is a very relaxed individual who has the ability to turn nasty in the blink of the eye. He is not going to win any personality awards but he might rack up a few CY Young awards.

His emergence in the league has been remarkable from his 11 k performance in his debut despite pitching only 5 innings to his career record of 49-17. (Best Winning Percentage in the History). Still people doubt that he will be able to last in the league because of his miniature stature.

My Prediction for 2002 for Tim Hudson is:

16-10 4.02 ERA.

Reason behind that is Hudson has struggled against two AL West foes in his career, compiling a record of 7-6 against those teams. Which might not sound bad but compare that with what he has done with the rest of the league (42-11) it is clear, Hudson needs to solve the mystery of those two teams since A’s will be in a close race this year competing against those two teams. If Hudson can do better against those teams, he can be the X factor that will separate the A’s from everyone else.

Barry Zito:

“…one of the deadliest curveballs in the game.”

What can we say about this guy, has all the natural tools to be a force in the majors? He has the size 6’4″ 205lbs, definitely has the stuff to be a success in the Majors. With less than two years in the major Zito has complied a career record of 24-12 with an ERA of 3.25.

It is clear to A’s fan that out of the three pitching stars Zito might be the best one. Despite a very slow start last year, Zito was able to turn it around and win 17 games, but it does bring to mind what if Zito is prone to slow starts? A’s can not afford that from Zito this year, because of the unbalanced schedule A’s will need Zito 100% right from the get go.

Zito, Unlike Hudson has done pretty well against the AL West teams he has a career record of 10-5 against the teams from the AL West. A’s are going to need those kind of numbers in order to win the west.

Zito has one of the deadliest curveballs in the game. Joe Torre compared it to that of Sandy Koufax, it seems Zito sometimes does over use the curve too much.

He needs to get better with his other pitches, he is still very young and he shows that sometimes, he has issued 125 walks in only 307 career Innings, that is close to 3.7 walks per game. If Zito wants to become a dominate force in the league he needs to concentrate more and get his changeup over for strike more often.

My Prediction for 2002 for Barry Zito is:

21-6 3.26 ERA

Reason behind that is I believe Zito turned the corner over the last few months of the season and pitched beautifully in the post-season . People forget after the home run by Posada he allowed a double to Shane Spencer, those were the only two hits he gave up during his 8 innings of work. Who knows what could have happened if Fat Giambi knew how to slide.

Regardless, Zito has turned the corner professionally, it is my belief he will start the season strong and finish the season strong. Zito if healthy will challenge for the CY Young award. Although he must remain focused throughout the season and must avoid a bad start, for the sake of the A’s Zito can not afford to go winless like he did for a span of two months last year.

Mark Mulder:

“…excellent ball control”

Ultimate Pro, never had doubt about his ability. Despite being soft spoken he is as competitive as the next guy. Mulder broke through last year after an injury plagued rookie campaign.

Mulder gained an extra 2-3 miles on his fastball and breezed through the year with a 21-8 record. Built like a Basketball player, Mulder gave the A’s a fighting chance to stay in the race while the team struggled immensely in the first two months.

His Record of 7-2 in the first two months gave the A’s a fighting chance to stay in the race. Mulder has excellent control he issued only 55 walk in 229 innings. The comes to barely over 2 a game, Mulder did throw a lot of innings but out of three starters he averaged the least amount of pitches per game with 97.1.

Mulder coasted through the league. He pitched 6 CG and induced 26 double plays by far most on the A’s starting staff, his heavy sinker/slider combination gave left handed hitters fit who managed to hit only .242 against him.

My Prediction for 2002 for Mulder is

18-8 3.58 ERA.

Mulder pitched over his head a little last year and caught the league by surprise with his additional speed on his fastball, Hitters will be looking for the extra hit. He will need to make more adjustments, if he can do that he will gave the A’s a chance to compete. He was brilliant after the break with a 12-2 record and an ERA of 3.11. If he can start the season with the same success, he will be the key cod in the A’s Machine.

The Triplets all need to have 17+ win season once again but most importantly of all they all need to remain healthy. Art Howe did a good job of keeping the pitch count down for all three, they were all under 105 pitches per game. If they all pitch like they did last year, I feel bad for the teams who have to face these guys in a series. Remember what they did to the World Champions Diamondbacks before the All-Star Break?