What to say about the Oakland Athletics relief pitching in 2015? It was as bad as it gets, period. The A’s relievers were 28th in ERA this year, after being 12th, 18th, 4th, 6th and 3rd in the preceding five seasons. It’s no coincidence Oakland made the postseason each of those years where the relievers were in the Top 10.
The first part of looking forward to 2016 is assessing the season that just ended, and we’re now going over the team’s results, position by position. That’s 11 articles in the 11 days, finishing before the end of the World Series and by the opening of free agency. By Halloween, you’ll know exactly what the A’s need for 2016. We promise. We’ve looked at the infield and outfield already, as well as the starting pitchers.
Remember, Billy Beane is no longer the Oakland general manager: That role is now David Forst’s to fill, as Beane was promoted to Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations at the end of the team’s worst season since 1997. It will be up to Forst now to see if he can get the A’s that elusive 10th World Series title that has haunted the team over its last 10 playoffs appearances since the 1989 MLB championship.
Oakland relievers were the worst group in the AL by a quarter of a run per nine innings, and the gang was dead last in the majors in save conversions (52.83 percent). Time and time again, the A’s blew late-inning leads. Sometimes the offense got the lead back, only to see the bullpen blow it again.
Technically, this issue started in August 2014 when closer Sean Doolittle went on the disabled list. Even though Doolittle came back late in 2014, he wasn’t the same. When he missed most of 2015, the bullpen once again went into a spiral. Tyler Clippard (17 saves, 2.79 ERA) did fine as a fill-in closer before being traded to the New York Mets in late July.
However, Clippard blew four saves himself, and the number of blown saves just kept going up and up all season long—from everyone in the bullpen. No one could get anyone out when it mattered, and that’s how the A’s ended up with 35 one-run losses in 2015.
- Evan Scribner: four blown saves
- Fernando Abad: three blown saves
- Edward Mujica: three blown saves
- Drew Pomeranz: three blown saves
- Fernando Rodriguez: two blown saves
- R.J. Alvarez: one blown save
- Sean Doolitte; one blown save
- Ryan Dull: one blown save
- Eric O’Flaherty: one blown save
- Dan Otero: one blown save
For the record, Clippard and Doolittle had roughly the same save percentage (80 percent) over 27 opportunities, but the others on this list were brutal. As a whole, the team converted just 28 of 53 save chances. Oakland lost 12 games it led heading into the seventh inning and eight games it led heading into the eighth inning. That’s how the A’s finished 68-94 despite putting up enough runs and run prevention to win 77 games.
Who will be back in 2016? Doolittle will be, and hopefully, he can be healthy this time. Abad and Scriber each gave up 2.1 home runs per nine innings pitched, which isn’t MLB-quality relief. Pomeranz (3.2) and Rodriguez (3.7) each walked too many betters per nine to be reliable, although some of Pommy’s issues came during his nine starts this season.
Alvarez and Otero each gave up more than 12 hits per nine innings pitched, which is terrible. Mujica was an overpriced gamble and a free agent now. Basically, every reliever that can come back has major flaws to fix. The bullpen will need a lot of attention this winter to stabilize it for 2016.
Since August 9, 2014, when the A’s had the best record in the AL and Doolittle went on the DL, Oakland has posted a 84-125 record. Needless to say, the team will only go as far next season as the bullpen takes it.