Oakland Athletics Bullpen Struggling Out of the Gate

Adam BernacchioAnalyst IIIApril 6, 2011

Maybe it’s because closer Andrew Bailey is on the disabled list? Maybe it’s because the Ghost of Moneyball is coming back to haunt GM Billy Beane for spending money on his bullpen this winter?

Balfour's neck was popping last night

Whatever the reason is, the Oakland A’s bullpen is really struggling coming out of the gate in 2011. The A’s dropped to 1-3 last night with their loss to the Toronto Blue Jays and once again, their bullpen blew a lead late.

In all three of Oakland's losses this season, their bullpen has blown the lead. Last night, it was Grant Balfour and his neck veins doing the honors.

After the A’s managed to push across a run in the top of the 10th, Balfour served up a single up the middle to Rajai Davis and then an opposite-field HR to SS Yunel Escobar. The A’s probably could have used Bailey in that spot.

Billy Beane, usually not one to spend money on his bullpen because of the unpredictability of relievers, spent close to $19 million on Brian Fuentes and Balfour. Those two and the rest of the bullpen are proving why you don’t spend big money on setup men.

The A’s bullpen has a 6.97 ERA, which is the second-worst in the league right now (only the Chicago White Sox are worse). They are also walking 4.35 batters/9, which is also towards the bottom of baseball.

But don’t worry, A’s fans—there should be some brighter days ahead. A lot of the peripherals are in their favor.

First, they have a K/9 rate of 9.58, which is fifth-best amongst bullpens in baseball. That’s something that should sustain itself throughout the course of the season.

Second, their LOB (Left On Base) percentage is an extremely low 42 percent, which is resulting in their high ERA. The Major League average last season was 73 percent, so this will even out as the season progresses. Sooner or later, those runners that are scoring from first or second will be left on base.

Third, their xFIP (Expected Fielding Independent Pitching) is a respectable 3.84. Of all the pitching metrics out there, xFIP is the best way to predict future ERA. A 3.84 ERA or better would be pretty solid for an American League bullpen.

Based on those three peripherals, the A’s bullpen should get better as the year goes on. But right now, they are really struggling.

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