The freshest memories of Oakland Athletics bullpen collapses are from earlier this month. On June 7th, the A’s took a 4-0 lead into the bottom of the eighth in Boston. Kendall Graveman watched his beauty of a start disappear as the bullpen surrendered six of the seven Red Sox runs from that inning. More recently, the A’s watched a 7-2 lead against the Los Angeles Angels evaporate in a catastrophic eight-run seventh on June 19th.
Evan Scribner was one of the pieces involved in both of these collapses.
In Boston, Graveman had just given up a solo home run, making it a 4-1 game. When Scribner was called into the game, he pitched to three batters, gave up three hits, and one of them scored. The other two that he put on base would eventually score as well.
Against the Angels, the A’s called on Scribner to relieve Edward Mujica, who had just given up a grand slam to Albert Pujols. The home run had made it a 9-7 game, and the A’s wanted Scribner to minimize any further damage. His first batter knocked an inherited runner in on a base hit.
On paper, Scribner is having an outstanding year as a reliever. Through 38 innings pitched, his ERA is a solid 3.08, his WHIP is nice and low at 0.97, and his strikeout to walk ratio is an astonishing 13.67/1. So why is it that he has struggled to do damage control in key situations this year?
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The answer could be that this is really the first year that Bob Melvin has asked the young pitcher to get the A’s out of stressful innings. Since joining the A’s in 2012 through the end of the 2014 season, Scribner was called to pitch in 61 games. Of those 61 relief appearances, only three of them were in high leverage (or high pressure) situations. In 2015, he has pitched in 36 games, and a whopping 13 of them have been in high pressure situations. That is a jump from five percent of all relief appearances from 2012-2014 to 36 percent of relief appearances this year.
Baseball-Reference’s leverage splits show that high pressure situations are actually a critical problem for Scribner. He holds runners to a .227 average in low leverage situations, but this swells up to .310 in high leverage situations. From 2012 through 2014, he only allowed 29 percent of his inherited runners to score in these low leverage situations. This season, 56 percent of his inherited runners have scored.
Scribner has only given up runs in eight of his 36 appearances this year, though. Despite the messes he has gotten into in the high pressure situations, there are still 28 games where he cruised through his relief appearance and left A’s fans wondering, “Hey, why don’t we use this guy when it counts?”
It may be asking too much of Scribner in his first real season of making relief appearances regularly. There is no doubt that Melvin has been trying to use him when it counts, he just has not seen a whole lot of success there. As it stands, Scribner will not be getting the nod in any bases-loaded situations without first being eased into higher pressure appearances.