It’s Time For the Oakland Athletics’ To Make a Change In the Bullpen
Sometimes, teams are forced to make a move out of necessity rather than choice. That can only be the reasoning behind the Oakland Athletics’ use of Edward Mujica in the closer’s role since the trade of Tyler Clippard.
Mujica has been average at best for the Athletics’ this season. He’s sporting a 3.79 ERA since coming to Oakland in a deal with the Red Sox, and opposing hitters have mashed .275/.292/.435 against him. It certainly hasn’t been his best year, but with a bullpen as shaky as the A’s, who else could possibly close?
Let’s look at Mujica’s record in save situations this season. He’s had five attempts, in which hitters have had a 1.375 OPS and his ERA has skyrocketed to 8.10. By contrast, non-save situations have resulted in a .687 OPS and 3.68 ERA, admittedly over a much bigger 27-game sample size.
But it isn’t just save situations that Mujica has struggled in. In 16 games considered “late and close”, batters have a 1.144 OPS against him. There’s also a steady decline in opposing hitters’ OPS versus Mujica depending on the run differential of the game, from .958 in one-run games to .550 in games with a five-run lead or greater.
Similarly, his statistics decline as the game situation because more high leverage, with his best numbers coming in low leverage situations.
Mujica was stellar in 2013, logging 37 saves for the St. Louis Cardinals in an All-Star season. But he had never been a closer before that year, nor was he one after that, save for a few opportunities in Boston. So what led to his magical 2013 season? Primarily, the Cardinals’ defense.
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Since leaving St. Louis, Mujica’s FIP has jumped to 4.00. Fielding Independent Pitching measures a pitcher’s ability to get outs, regardless of the defense behind him. It heavily penalizes home runs and moderately penalizes walks and hit batsmen, while given pitchers’ credit for strikeouts. This is meant to normalize for defensive plays that would be overlooked in ERA, because it gives the most weight to the categories a pitcher can control himself.
Mujica’s current FIP of 3.78 is identical to his 3.79 ERA, and his overall 4.00 FIP since leaving the Cardinals matches his overall 3.98 ERA. However, during his All-Star 2013 season, Mujica sported a 2.78 ERA and a FIP that was almost a full run more, at 3.71. He was a great closer because he had a great defense. In Oakland, he does not have that luxury.
With that said, who would be a fitting replacement? The answer requires a little bit of team restructuring: Jesse Chavez .
Chavez is no longer capable of being an effective starter, but the Oakland Athletics’ can still get plenty of value from him by using him in save situations. Removing Chavez from the rotation will require the addition of another pitcher – Barry Zito.
Zito has a 3.64 ERA in the minor leagues this season, striking out over 15 percent of batters and holding them to just a .239 average. He would be more than capable of taking Chavez’s spot in the major league rotation.
Meanwhile, Chavez would be able to close games, and Mujica could return to his job as a regular reliever or even a setup man of sorts. Chavez has a 2.14 ERA in save situations throughout his career, across the course of 32 games. He hasn’t been stellar in close games, but he has been reliable enough to do the job better than Mujica. Chavez’s numbers are affected by the fact that he was a starter, but he’s still managed to keep his opponents’ OPS to .755 when the game is within two runs.
While Chavez may or not be the answer, there’s no doubt about the fact that Mujica is not equipped for the job, and he will be a free agent after this season anyway. It’s time to give someone else the opportunity to prove themselves instead.