Oakland Athletics’ Bullpen Implosion Cost Team the Season
By Steven Luke
What Happened to the Oakland Athletics’ Bullpen?
The 2015 Oakland Athletics have lost in a lot of different ways. They’ve been shutout, they’ve lost games 1-0 and they’ve given up more unearned runs than you can count, but the biggest issue of the year was highlighted on Wednesday afternoon when they lost to the Orioles after giving up a grand slam in the tenth inning.
Over the last three seasons of success, the bullpen has been the one place that has seen constant success. Coming out of 2012 Spring Training, Grant Balfour beat out the incumbent closer Brian Fuentes. Balfour wasn’t perfect, and eventually lost his job for a brief time to Ryan Cook, who came over from the Arizona Diamondbacks in the Trevor Cahill trade. But that August he regained his job, and alongside Cook and rookie Sean Doolittle, the A’s late-inning trio became a three-headed bullpen monster.
Related: Oakland Athletics’ Bullpen Carousel: Eric O’Flaherty to Mets
Along with the three-headed monster, Jerry Blevins established himself as one of the best left-handed specialist in the game, and in the 2012 season they only added more pieces to the bullpen puzzle. Pat Neshek, Dan Otero and Jesse Chavez became integral parts of the pen as well.
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After the 2013 season Balfour was allowed to walk away via free agency, and a new closer was acquired. Jim Johnson joined the team from the Baltimore Orioles, and while he did not work out in the bullpen, the pen continued to thrive once he was removed from the closer’s role, although it did begin to falter down the stretch along with the rest of the team.
Now it is 2015, and the bullpen looked to be in great condition heading into the season, with Doolittle as the incumbent closer and the addition of a world-class set-up man in the form of Tyler Clippard. The bulk of the 2014 bullpen returned, but they failed to perform the way they had the previous season.
Maybe it can be traced back to the injury of Doolittle. Maybe it’s a result of the trades of last season. Or maybe the guys in the bullpen have just been worked too long and too hard. No matter what you believe the issue is, there is only one truth: the biggest issue with the 2015 A’s has been the bullpen.
Related: Why the Oakland Athletics’ Need Pat Venditte
Blevins’ replacement as the top left handed specialist, Fernando Abad, can no longer get out left handers. Eric O’Flaherty came back in 2014 from Tommy John surgery to be an effective piece, but has since been designated for assignment and then traded last week. The move to put Evan Scribner into high-leverage situations that looked genius early in the season backfired when Scribner could no longer keep the ball in the yard. In addition to those three, Otero has not been the same pitcher, and Cook started the season at AAA Nashville and continued to struggle before being traded to the Boston Red Sox. R.J. Alvarez, who came over in a trade in the offseason, hasn’t been able to figure it out at the big league level, and the one consistent pitcher, Clippard, is now a New York Met.
The Oakland Athletics can start to repair their bullpen by bringing back the league’s first switch-pitcher Pat Venditte, but it is too little, too late. This team has already dropped too far out of the race. Even if the bullpen was perfect the rest of the way, the damage has already been done.