Lack of Effective “Closer” Hurting Athletics


Tuesday night’s loss to the Rangers, where a 1-run lead was surrendered by

Luke Gregerson

with two outs in the ninth inning, was the sixth blown save so far this season Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

The Oakland Athletics could potentially have six more Ws in the win column if the bullpen would have been able to complete tasks assigned when coming in during situations with a lead. Though the A’s came back to win two of those blown leads in extra innings, let’s not forget two tie games when the lead was given away such as opening night and most recently Monday night, April 21, vs. the Rangers.

The Athletics bullpen is just 5 for 11 in save opportunities this year – and it’s only in April Sports Fans. The six blown saves tie the Pittsburgh Pirates for the most in the majors.

Coming into the season, closing out games appeared all-but-automatic for a bullpen staff that included known closer Jim Johnson, Luke Gregerson, Dan Otero, Fernando Abad, Ryan Cook and Sean Doolittle.

With the exception of Abad, who’s ERA stands at 0.00 with an opponent BA of .069 in 9 appearances, the pen hasn’t been able to get the job done especially when it comes to getting the final three outs of a game.

Fernando Abad has only allowed an opponent BA of .069 and has a 0.00 ERA Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Johnson lost his designated closer role after the first week of the season and A’s Manager Bob Melvin decided to go with a closer-by-committee system, shoulder tapping Doolittle and Gregerson most of the time

Tuesday night’s loss to the Rangers, where a 1-run lead was surrendered by Gregerson with two outs in the ninth inning, was the sixth so far. Gregerson’s three blown saves are tied for the major league lead. The others blown saves include:

  • April 2 vs. Indians: Gregerson blows a one-run lead in the 7th, but the A’s get the lead back
  • April 2 vs. Indians: Johnson then blows the regained lead in the 9th; the A’s lose
  • April 9 vs. Twins: Dan Otero “blows” the save when Jim Johnson turns a two-run lead into a bases loaded, one-out jam with the tying run on third. (the A’s end up winning in 11)
  • April 15 vs. Angels: Sean Doolittle blows a two-run lead in the 9th. (the A’s end up winning in 11)
  • April 16 vs Angels: Luke Gregerson blows a one-run lead in the 9th. (the A’s lose in 12)

Melvin commented to the media that he has no plans to change the arrangement. The tag-team tactic may be common among teams for a short-term basis until their regular closer gets healthy or becomes identified, but a regular closer needs stability.

Bluntly, there is no evident cure right now, as all have experienced some instability finishing the game. Despite its ineffectiveness in nailing down the last three outs, the bullpen actually has the lowest opponent’s batting average in the majors and the sixth-lowest ERA.

Former closer Jim Johnson lost his role in the first week of the season after blowing two saves and failing to hold the lead in another game: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Johnson appeared to be coming along in recent games but still surrendered two hits in Wednesday’s ninth inning appearance. Once he finds his groove and eventually commands the closer’s role, I think he will be back as the A’s regular closer.

On a related note, last year’s closer, now with the Tampa Bay Rays, Grant Balfour is 4 of 5 in save opportunities without allowing a run.