Pitching Notes: Puk, Kluber, Pagan, Britton

When discussing the Athletics’ 2023 rotation, general manager David Forst told reporters that reliever A.J. Puk will prepare for the season as a starter and enter spring training with a chance to earn a spot on Oakland’s staff, per Matt Kawahara of the San Francisco Chronicle. Forst noted how Puk “got through a season healthy,” with the lefty only spending time on the COVID injured list during 2022.

Puk, a former first-round draft pick, threw 66 1/3 innings (62 appearances) during the 2022 season with a 3.12 ERA, a strong 27.1% strikeout rate, and an 8.2% walk rate. The 27-year-old had previously worked his way through Oakland’s minor league system as a starter but transitioned to a bullpen role in Triple-A and has yet to start a game at the major league level.

The As utilized a rotation comprised of Cole Irvin, James Kaprielian, Paul Blackburn, and Frankie Montas (before his trade to New York), but also received at least seven starts from Adam Oller, Adrian Martinez, JP Sears, Daulton Jefferies, and Ken Waldichuk. Nevertheless, Oakland’s vast staff housed the fifth-highest ERA (4.69) and sixth-lowest strikeout rate (18.3%), while allowing the third-most home runs to opposing batters (129).

In other news:

  • The Cubs have checked in with Corey Kluber as they search to add to their rotation, reports Sahdev Sharma and Patrick Mooney of The Athletic. Sharma and Mooney add that Kluber is close friends with Cubs catcher Yan Gomes and is “more open-minded about Chicago” after spending the past few seasons on the East Coast. Kluber, who turns 37 years old in April, joined the Rays in 2022 on a one-year, $8MM contract laced with incentives that he maxed out, resulting in a total salary of $12MM. The two-time Cy Young winner pitched 164 innings (31 starts) with a 4.34 ERA, a below-average 20.2% strikeout rate, a tiny 3.1% walk rate, and a career-low 35.1% ground ball rate. However, Kluber labored as the season progressed, pitching to a 3.73 ERA in the first half compared to a 5.14 ERA after the All-Star break. Nevertheless, he was able to complete his first full season since 2018. Kluber made one appearance during Tampa Bay’s postseason push, throwing 1 2/3 innings of relief and giving up a solo shot in a Rays’ Wild Card loss.
  • Despite a shaky first season with the Twins, Emilio Pagan reportedly garnered trade interest at both the trade deadline in August and the non-tender deadline in November, per Aaron Gleeman of The Athletic. Pagan, 31, pitched 63 innings of 4.43 ERA baseball, earning seven saves with a high 30.7% strikeout rate, 9.5% walk rate, and 39.9% ground ball rate. 2022 was Pagan’s third consecutive season with an ERA over 4.40 after gaining prominence pitching to a 2.31 ERA in 70 innings with the Rays in 2019. MLBTR predicts that Pagan will receive $3.7MM during his final trip through the arbitration process.
  • Free agent and former two-time All-Star Zack Britton has “started his normal offseason throwing program and should be a full go in spring training,” reports Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic. Rosenthal adds that Britton is seeking a “one-year deal.” Britton, who turns 35 years old in December, pitched to a 1.90 ERA in 80 1/3 innings across 2019 and 2020 before dealing with elbow discomfort in early 2021 and undergoing Tommy John surgery near the end of the season. Britton returned to the mound near the end of the 2022 season but was soon shut down with shoulder fatigue. Despite two lost years, Britton will likely field calls from across the league, having recorded ground ball rates of at least 70% in eight of his last ten seasons, excluding 2022.

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