For Better, For Worse: Oakland Aces

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I'm here to make amends. During spring training, I said that Oakland was a fantasy wasteland, nearly void of any talent. I was wrong. While the Athletics are in last place in the AL West, they have the foundation of a good young pitching staff. They are so young, that four out five pitchers in their starting rotation are rookies. Their won-loss records are not very good, but then again you can't win if your team doesn't score. Oakland is 12th in the AL in runs scored, last in homeruns, last in batting average and, shockingly, last in Billy Beane's favorite stat, OBP.

A little run support would make a big difference and put these pitchers on everyone's fantasy radar. If you can punt on wins, there is a lot of value in the Oakland kiddie corps. Most of the youngsters are well-kept secrets, ripe for plucking off the free agent wire. They are for better. Not all of them are ready just yet, however. They do have the potential to help you next season. They are for worse.

Dallas Braden, SP: The 25-year-old Braden is the "veteran" of the Oakland rotation. He is the only starting pitcher that's not a rookie. Don't let Braden's 5-7 record fool you. He's been one of the better pitchers in the AL over the past month. Braden, 25, has held the opposition to two earned runs or less in each of his last six starts. He has only one win in that span despite a tidy 2.58 ERA. Braden is available in about 3/4 of fantasy leagues.

Vin Mazzaro, SP: The 22-year-old made his major league debut on June 2. He got off to a quick start and was not scored upon until his third game. He has the typical run support problem that every Oakland starter has. In his last four starts, the Athletics have scored a total of four runs. Except for the won-loss record (2-3), Mazzaro's numbers are impressive: a 2.95 ERA, a 1.17 WHIP, nearly seven strikeouts per nine innings pitched and an opponent's batting average of .231. Mazzaro is available in about 80 percent of leagues.

Andrew Bailey, RP: Bailey, 25, spent all of 2008 in Double-A ball, pitching to a 5-9 record with a 4.32 ERA. So he was thrilled just to make the Oakland roster in April. Little did he know he would be the closer before the end of May. Bailey has been dominant, with a 4-1 record, a 2.14 ERA, 54 Ks in 46.1 innings, a 1.01 WHIP and eight saves. Bailey is somehow still available in over 30 percent of leagues.

Michael Wuertz, RP: The 30-year-old spent five seasons with the Cubs before coming over to Oakland this season. Wuertz is enjoying pitching in the Oakland. He has given up only one run in 18 innings at the Oakland Coliseum. Wuertz has a 4-1 record with a 2.72 ERA, a 0.96 WHIP and 41 Ks in 36.1 innings. He also has two saves, but he doesn't figure to get many more with Bailey and Ziegler ahead of him on the depth chart. Wuertz has 8 holds and is worth a pickup in any league that uses that stat or that requires middlemen.

Brad Ziegler, RP, Athletics: A bad stretch in May cost Ziegler the closer job. He has pitched better lately, though his overall numbers are still poor for fantasy play: a 1-3 record, six saves, a 3.34 ERA and a 1.54 WHIP. Ziegler, 29, has value in leagues that use middlemen or in AL-only leagues where he is a handcuff to Bailey. However, Wuertz has out pitched Ziegler as a middleman.

Josh Outman, SP: Outman, 24, was off to a good start, with a 4-1 record, a 3.48 ERA, a 1.16 WHIP and over seven Ks per nine innings pitched. Last week the rookie southpaw hurt his elbow in San Diego. Outman had ligament surgery yesterday and is done for the rest of 2009. He is probably done for a good chunk of 2010 as well. A shame. You can release him in all leagues, including keeper leagues.

Gio Gonzalez, RP: Gonzalez, 23, takes Outman's place in the rotation. He is another rookie, of course. Gonzalez is a hard thrower, striking out 71 batters in 61 innings at Triple-A Sacramento before his call-up. Against major league pitching, he has 13 Ks in 12.1 innings. The rest of his line is ugly. Gonzalez has been little control or command. He has a swollen 8.03 ERA and a sky-high 2.43 WHIP.

Justin Duchscherer, SP: Duchscherer has spent the whole season on the DL, rehabbing a back injury. He has not thrown at all in 2009, so the best-case scenario would be an August return to Oakland. If you have stashed him all season, you are far more patient that I would be. The 31-year-old has had an injury-plagued career.

Trevor Cahill and Brett Anderson, SP: Both rookies are 21 and very green. Neither one should be on a fantasy roster yet. 2010 might be their year.