Oakland Athletics Bullpen

Last year the Oakland Athletics bullpen ranked in the top 10 in terms of ERA and FIP. More advanced metrics didn’t find as much favor with their body of work, as the A’s pen ranked middle of the road in terms of SIERA and xFIP. Given the park they call home, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the A’s relievers posted the second best HR/FB rate, coming in second to the Mariners. Being satisfied with the status quo usually isn’t Billy Beane‘s style, and this offseason he moved around plenty of parts. There are some new faces to don the white cleats as well as some returning contributors, but the key is this team has fantasy relevant talent in this pen outside of the closer.

The closer
Jim Johnson

Johnson may be one of the new guys, but his job is secure as the club’s closer. His strong ground ball rate helps make up for his lack of swing-and-miss stuff and it is impossible to argue his recent work. Over the past two years Johnson leads baseball with 86 shutdowns against 15 meltdowns. For context, Aroldis Chapman has 80 SD and 14 MD and Craig Kimbrel has posted a 76:9 ratio. Johnson is a solid bet to gain saves and good ratios even if he lacks in the strikeout department.

The setup men
Luke Gregerson
Ryan Cook
Sean Doolittle

Three setup men? With this much talent in the back end of the bullpen, A’s skipper Bob Melvin should has plenty of options when picking who goes up in the eighth inning. Like Johnson, Gregerson is another new acquisition. Gregerson has been a personal favorite of the present author’s for years now, as he has been a steady contributor of great ratios and holds for half a decade. If Johnson stumbles, Gregerson or Cook should be next in line to close.

A full write up of Cook can be found here. The gist is that Cook is really good.

All of the players listed thus far have been right-handed, though they don’t struggle when facing lefties. That being said, if an opposing lineup stacks up several lefties in a row, Melvin can hand the ball to Doolittle and not worry. The lefty has a fastball that averaged over 94 mph last year and has held left-handed hitters to a .278 wOBA for his career. Even if the opposing manager sneaks in a switch hitter or a right-handed pinch hitter, Doolittle can dispatch of them as well. He has held opposite-handed hitters to an even more impressive .249 wOBA over his career.

Middle relief
Dan Otero
Jesse Chavez
Fernando Abad
Evan Scribner

Otero is a ground ball pitcher, 58.8% GB% in his career, though his career spans just 51.1 innings. According to Minor League Central, Otero’s reputation as a worm burner is well warranted. Since 2012 — regardless of Triple-A or MLB — Otero has posted a ground ball rate above 50% in every uniform that he has put on. That aside, there isn’t much fantasy upside to grabbing Otero as his strikeout rate isn’t great and he probably won’t rack up the holds.

It wasn’t long ago that the present author referred to Chavez as the human flag of surrender. If the A’s were bringing in Chavez, it was probably a blow out and he just needed work. Then last year he trimmed almost a full walk off of his BBB/9 and suddenly the A’s were putting him in higher leverage situations. Back in 2012, Chavez’s average game leverage index (gmLI) with the A’s was 0.34 in four appearances. Last year it shot up to .91 in 35 outings. It seems as though both Melvin and the front office has more faith in Chavez now. If anyone in this middle relief group can climb up to the setup men tier, it would be Chavez.

If only Troy Percival were still around and on the A’s. The “Troy and Abad” posters practically write themselves, even if the spelling and pronunciation is a little off. Alas, Abad will have to go without Troy (just like the show). Abad has held fellow lefties to a .317 wOBA over his career, though he does struggled against opposite-handed hitters to the tune of a .370 wOBA. At this point in time he is more or less a LOOGY.

Scriber, aka Scribbles, is another righty, though he is more of a fly ball pitcher. With the A’s spacious home park, the fly balls don’t particularly hurt. He’s buried on the depth chart and shouldn’t gather more than a few holds this season.

Eric O’Flaherty

Currently coming back from Tommy John surgery, the A’s nonetheless decided to ink O’Flaherty to a two-year deal. He is expected to come back sometime in July and was once a dominant left-handed reliever. Combining a strong ground ball rate with a great swinging strike rate leads to lots of weak grounders and a good amount of strikeouts. Since the 2010 season, O’Flaherty’s 1.68 ERA is good for second best in baseball (minimum 180 innings). Despite generating plenty of ground balls, his .268 BABIP over that time frame ranks in the top 30 and his 86.1% LOB% rates as fourth best.

Presuming he is fully healthy when he come backs, O’Flaherty makes the A’s pen go from “very good” to “outstanding.” He would give the A’s two premiere left-handed relievers in addition to their three excellent right-handed hurlers. There are teams that don’t have one reliever as good as any one of the top five A’s relievers. This should be another great year for the A’s bullpen.

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8 Responses to “Oakland Athletics Bullpen”

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  1. lowcountryjoe says:

    So, you think Pomeranz is going to remain a starting pitcher?

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    • David Wiers says:

      Yep. The A’s have plenty of depth in both the rotation and the pen, and I still see Pomeranz as a starter. I haven’t heard any indication of the club leaning one way or the other for him, so I can only assume that he’ll remain a starter. I know he made a few relief appearances last year, but that was the Rockies. They had all sorts of experiments with their rotation recently. Hard for me to buy into that too much.

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    • A's Fan says:

      Based on what Pomeranz did as a 24-year-old in Triple-A last season (26.2 K% over 85.2 innings — all as a starter), I would be highly disappointed if the A’s didn’t give him a long look as a SP.

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  2. Helladecimal says:

    Nice work Mr. Wiers. I’m particularly interested to see how Gregerson’s year turns out.

    I remember that Chavez gained more confidence from A’s decision-makers when he pitched the last 5 innings in that 18 inning behemoth against the Yankees. If I remember correctly, he pitched reasonably well in the weeks following and then his stuff started to flatten out as his season IP stacked up.

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  3. jfree says:

    I certainly hope Jim Johnson’s job secure is secure. I even more fervently hope that I will understand what I just wrote.

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  4. Dm says:

    Do you think Cook’s late season collapse was indicative of anything? He had a 5.00 ERA in September, with 7 walks and 2 HBPs in 9 innings and opponents batting .342/.460/.439 off him. Obviously 9 innings isn’t enough to evaluate anyone, but if I remember correctly the second half of August was bad too, and towards the end of the season/playoffs Melvin didn’t give him any innings unless it was garbage time.

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  5. Ivan Grushenko says:

    I’m kinda surprised you pick Chavez to be a potential setup man over Otero. Otero was in some high leverage situations late in the season and even the postseason in 2013, and he did pretty well.

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    • A's Fan says:

      Otero did a nice job, but Chavez profiles as more of a prototypical setup man… higher K rate, nastier stuff.

      Otero strikes me a middle-innings guy who can get a starter out of a jam with that nice groundball rate. He averaged more than an inning per appearance, so he can go multiple frames if the SP exits early.

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