Last year, the Oakland Athletics had a left-handed reliever who finished the season with a 1.56 ERA in 69 games, striking out 51 batters in the process. He had an astonishingly low .855 WHIP, and a strikeout to walk rate of 3.40.
Looking at those numbers, it’s hard to tell that that pitcher was Fernando Abad. Abad has fallen off entirely this season, with a 5.52 ERA in just 14.2 innings. What exactly happened?
Those who are wondering how Abad could have fallen off so steeply in just one year must never have seen him pitch in Houston or Washington, where he averaged a 4.56 ERA for the first four seasons of his major league career. He had never pitched in more than 40 big league games in a season, until landing in Oakland last season. His numbers this year are actually much closer to his career average than the stellar statistics he posted last year were.
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Even last year, Abad shouldn’t have been as good as he was. His underlying numbers all showed that he was clearly pitching beyond his abilities. With a 3.25 FIP, it’s clear that his ERA was a fluke made possible by a high ground ball rate and a strong infield defense behind him.
In 2014, Abad threw the highest percentage of fastballs in his career, according to FanGraphs. Over 65 percent of his pitches were fastballs, which averaged 92 miles per hour. He threw changeups just 7.1 percent of the time. This season, he’s relying heavily on a cutter – 9.6 percent of his pitches are a cut fastball that averages just 85.9 MPH, while his regular fastball has lost a little bit of average velocity and he’s throwing it just 53.7 percent of the time.
Those small changes are big factors in his struggles this season. Batters are swinging at just 22 percent of his pitches, instead of 32.2 percent. His strikeout rate has dropped from 23.6 percent last year, to 12.7 percent this season. Even his groundball rate is down nearly 10 percentage points, as he’s inducing far more fly balls off of the bat – eliminating his chances for double play balls and increasing his likelihood for home runs.
Oakland avoided arbitration by signing him to a $1.1 million deal this winter, which is a relatively small amount of money. It might be time for the team to cut their losses and get rid of him. Right now, it’s dangerous every time Abad takes the mound.