The upstart Athletics have another young starter besides Sean Manaea worth keeping an eye on
Daniel Mengden is an interesting arm with an oudated style
Entering the season, the Oakland Athletics were a reasonable dark-horse pick to contend for a spot in the American League Wild Card Game. At 21-22, the A's have played decent so far. Yet the flaw in their bezel has been (as expected) their rotation, which ranks 20th in ERA. Overall performance aside, the A's do have assets in their starting five: Sean Manaea has been fantastic, and launched his star when he no-hit the Boston Red Sox; Trevor Cahill, meanwhile, has pitched surprisingly well since being called upon, thus providing more than nostalgia rushes.
The A's have one other starter meriting attention: 25-year-old Daniel Mengden, who has recorded four quality starts in his last six tries, and whose seasonal totals include a 112 ERA+ and 7.20 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
If Mengden is known for anything, it's his old-soul vibe. His fancy lip sweater, throwback windup, and predilection for stirrups suggests he's a time-traveler from the '70s or '80s who walked through an interdimensional portal. Supporting the premise is a style ripped from the past. Mengden doesn't throw hard like his counterparts -- his quickest pitch this season checked in at 96 mph -- and he doesn't have top-flight secondaries that allow him to sport a trim arsenal.
Instead of a streamlined approach -- X or Y, depending on the situation -- Mengden has a bloated repertoire that he flips through like a Rolodex. Brooks Baseball's data has him throwing five pitches this season at least 10 percent of the time, but only one (his four-seamer) more than 25 percent. In addition to the generic heater, he throws a two-seamer, a changeup, and a pair of breaking balls, including a slow curve that floats across 20 mph slower than his typical fastball.
The tools don't make the carpenter anymore than the guitar makes the strummer or the pitches make the pitcher. Mengden shares attributes with the prototypical command-and-control type. He's a good athlete who played both ways in college and whose family tree includes ballerinas. That body control helps him repeat an unconventional delivery, to the tune of recording 66 percent strikes this season (league average is around 63-64 percent). The intangible parts are evident, too. Mengden knows how to pitch, how to work in and out, up and down, fast and slow.
The materials help, no doubt, and allow Mengden to do things unexpected of him, like leveraging his four-seamer's vertical movement (the sixth-most among qualifiers) to elevate late in counts. That's how he's generated whiffs on nearly 20 percent of his four-seamers, with the interplay between his pitches leading to swing-and-miss rates exceeding 30 percent on both his breaking balls. Not bad for someone whose raw stuff isn't often going to be captured in a GIF.
As such, Mengden fits into the category of pitcher whose whole exceeds his parts. Those kinds tend to fall in as mid-to-back-of-the-rotation types, and that's a fair representation of what his future will likely hold. Still, after a rough introduction to the majors in 2016, he's managed a 3.47 ERA and 3.88 FIP over his last 16 starts.That isn't enough to say he's definitely an above-average starter. It is, however, enough to say the A's have another young starter other than Manaea worth watching -- if only to enjoy the aesthetics of yesteryear.
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