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The A’s bullpen has been a disaster

Hey you clicked on this article, your fault you have to endure these damn A’s bullpen stats. These are through Wednesday of last week cause I put this together then threw my computer out the window out of anger before finishing this morning.

A’s 2017 bullpen

Stat Number Rank
Stat Number Rank
ERA 4.89 25th
FIP 4.41 20th
K% 21.90% 19th highest
BB% 8.50% 8th lowest
Blown saves 12 15th
Innings 283.1 16th most
LOB% 67.90% 30th

Okay, at first glance it’s not all bad and there are reasons to not absolutely despise the A’s pen. But it’s not good. No, not at all.

You have to be gobsmacked by the ERA, one that’s one particularly bad week away from eclipsing five. That’s hurt (aided?) by the A’s terrible defense, but they’re also pitching half their games in a pitcher’s paradise. So bad news that the A’s have been completely and totally unable to get outs in spite of playing in a huge stadium, slightly weird good news that at least a portion of their failure has been thanks to the D.

The left on base percentage being last explains this bullpen perfectly. They’re dead last at stranding runners on base, it’s not particularly close either. So that dread you feel anytime anyone gets on ever with this pen? It’s the right sensation.

Breaking things down by individual makes it a little more palatable. There hasn’t been one ace reliever, and there’s not a pitcher who isn’t anxiety inducing out of the pen. However, all of Sean Doolittle, Daniel Coulombe, Liam Hendriks, an Ryan Madson have shown flashes of being solid. Santiago Casilla too, if you’re feeling generous.

As a whole though, it’s been a tough year. Considering there are eight relievers in the pen, it’s disastrous that only a few can be relied on day in an day out. Baseball is at a point where the reliever is key, and the A’s don’t have the depth to compete in the modern game.

What does it mean going forward?

The A’s pen has been rough for a few years. It was absolutely at its worst in 2015, which I maintain was a blessing in disguise as it turned the A’s into full blown sellers.

Things were a touch better in 2016 after an offseason in which the A’s, for the first time in the Beane era dedicated serious resources towards relievers. It wasn’t a great season by any means for the bullpen, but it was a step in the right direction.

Then there’s been this year, the third straight year of a below average pen. Is that a worrying trend?

In one sense, yes. The A’s haven’t done the thing they did for years and years, where they pulled elite relievers from nowhere to close down games with regularity. The ability to find major parts of their roster for more or less spare change is imperative to the A’s ability to compete. If they’ve lost that, even in the pen, it could be a deal breaker for dreams of contention.

On the other hand, even in an age of relievers being some of the most valuable commodities in baseball, it doesn’t make a lot of sense for the A’s to make trades or dedicate anything serious in order to get close outs in close games. After all, they’re a bad team that’s rarely ahead in close games so yeah, not a lot of utility there. No reason to worry about a bad pen when the teams flaws run much deeper.

Additionally, the A’s have had some success in the pen. In a game where someone named Chris Devenski is one of the best relievers out there and ace relievers are grown on trees or are the product of random position changes, it’s important to pull the occasional rabbit out of a hat. Elite relievers must come from nowhere, and the A’s have found a few.

Ryan Dull was a late draft pick. He’s no sure thing to be the late inning ace he was for most of 2016, but the A’s still got some value there, and he should be able to be a bullpen piece for at least some time. Sean Doolittle is a story you well know and, a few dingers aside, is above average. Daniel Coulombe came from somewhere I don’t know off the top of my head and I’m not about to google it and that’s pretty cool for a guy with a 2.15 ERA. The A’s aren’t hopeless.

They are however, at least a bit away from anything employing an elite pen. Competing ahead of schedule like the A’s will again hope to do next year requires simultaneous over-achievement of all parts of the roster. The rotation? It’s got depth and youth and excitement and yeah, I can see it. The lineup? Power, speed, maybe even league average defense. Yeah!

The pen? It’s got a ways to go. Bullpens usually turn over more quickly than other parts of a roster, so it could easily surprise. However it does look like an area the A’s need to fix.

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