Could Tyson Ross Have Beeen the Next Jake Arrieta?

I was just about to hit the “Trash” button after seeing the trade deadline come and go without a Cubs/Padres deal. You see, I had been so confident in the persistent rumors that I had already typed up a post about Tyson Ross and how he could be yet another nice pitching project for the folks on the North Side. But I couldn’t bring myself to scuttle it, so I’m putting it out there anyway, like a director’s cut or something.

Over the last few years, the Cubs have been working on a remake of a classic tale, but they’ve added a significant twist. In this re-telling, a collection of flawed pitchers is making their way down the Warning Track Road to meet the Wizard of Boz in the hopes that he’ll grant them new powers. Whether that’s control, mastery of a new pitch, or maybe just plain ol’ tough love, the man behind the bullpen curtain has been given credit for more than one turnaround.

Had the Cubs acquired righty Tyson Ross, who began his career in Oakland but has pitched the last few seasons in San Diego, Chris Bosio would have had another wanting hurler on his hands. A capable pitcher, Ross has a three-pitch mix that includes two fastballs that average low 90’s and a slider. There’s also a cutter that, depending on which resource you trust, he uses between 0.7 and 3.7 percent of the time. The results this year (1.386 WHIP, 4.30 BB/9) haven’t been great, but there is reason to believe they don’t accurately reflect his skill.

That’s because some of the peripheral stats tell us Ross may not be getting the best results out of his talent. He’s only allowing .28 HR/9, which is commendable even in the pitcher-friendly confines of San Deigo’s Petco Park and should still translate very well to Wrigley. He’s also suffering the ill effects of a .334 BABIP against (32 points about his career number), which could indicate a decent amount of misfortune.

As such, a 3.38 ERA that looks pretty darn good might actually be unnecessarily inflated, as evidenced by his 2.89 FIP. I guess what I’m trying to say here is that Ross appears to have all the foundations for a very good pitcher if he can just harness his talent and cut down on the walks.

At the risk of making a groan-inducing comparison, this is much like what we saw with Jake Arrieta a couple years ago. Mind you, I’m not trying to say Ross has the same stuff or that he’s an ace waiting to happen, just that Arrieta’s numbers also indicated that he should have been better than his results showed. Actually, the fake-stirrup-wearing hurler’s stats from Baltimore were far worse than those the young Padre has put up.

Employing a fastball/curve/slider mix, Arrieta pitched his way right out of Charm City with a 5.46 ERA and 4 BB/9 against only 7 K/9 (1.74 K/BB). Upon arriving in Chicago and falling under the tutelage of Bosio, however, Arrieta has gone with more of a slider/cutter hybrid and has improved to 2.6 BB/9 and 9.1 K/9 (3.55 K/BB). Accordingly, his WHIP has dropped from 1.472 to 1.020.

At 9.66 K/9 this season and 8.34 in his career, Ross already has the pedigree of a pretty good strikeout guy. Unfortunately, the same stuff that misses bats has also missed the strike zone a lot. After pitching fewer than 150 combined innings for the A’s in his first 3 seasons in the league, Ross was traded to the Padres and broke out in 2013 with a 3.17 ERA and 119 strikeouts in 125 innings. He followed that up with a 195-inning, 2.81 ERA campaign that saw him named to the All-Star team. But the trouble with success is that it also draws attention.

Major league hitters are going to get wise to a pitcher really quickly and if they know he isn’t working in the zone, they’re going to lay off and make him throw strikes. As such, Ross has seen his BB/9 jump by an entire walk over last season. If, however, he can find a way to cut down on the free passes, he could easily build upon the success of the past couple seasons.

What’s more, Ross is under team control for the next few seasons; he’s arbitration-eligible after this year but won’t be a free agent until after the 2017 season. And at only $5.2 million this season, even relatively substantial arbitration increases or merit-based salary increases will result in a relatively cheap commodity. Oh, how I’d love to see Boz the Great and Powerful have that time to work a little magic on him.

But AJ Preller’s reluctance to deal his young hurler — or any of his players at all for that matter — means Theo Epstein’s need to satisfy his Friends fanboy cravings by establishing an all-Ross battery has gone unmet. I’m sure Tom Ricketts’ penny-pinching proclivities played a part too, right [insert Chicago Sun-Times columnist name here]? The Cubs could’ve had a young stud and instead they’re saddled with an old nag who more likely to break wind than the 90 mph mark.

It’s easy to joke about it now, but I was truly a bit disappointed by the lack of a bit deadline move. I’m not mad about the Dan Haren pickup at all, mind you, but having a nice cost-controlled arm that doesn’t prevent the Cubs from going after an even bigger prize this offseason would have been a big get. But they got better and that’s the key.

When it’s all said and done, I think the moral of the story here though is “don’t write posts about trades that haven’t happened because you’ll end up having to find ways to re-write them and then you’ll be embarrassed by both your overzealous fake journalism and the lack of views your irrelevant work drew.”

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