Oakland Athletics 2016 Preview: Pitcher John Axford

February 29, 2016; Mesa, AZ, USA; Oakland Athletics relief pitcher John Axford (61) poses for a picture during photo day at Hohokam Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
February 29, 2016; Mesa, AZ, USA; Oakland Athletics relief pitcher John Axford (61) poses for a picture during photo day at Hohokam Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports /

A’s Bullpen Preview: John Axford, The Ax Man

The Oakland Athletics bullpen has received an injection in the arm during their 2016 offseason, signing several pitchers who have served as closers in the past. What does former Colorado Rockies’ closer John Axford mean for the A’s ‘pen?

John Axford’s basic stats pop out in comparison to a worn out 2015 A’s bullpen, a bullpen whose 4.63 ERA was the 28th worst in baseball last year and the worst in the AL. In 60 games with Colorado, the 32-year-old Axford attained a 4.20 ERA while getting 25 saves with 62 strikeouts in 55 2/3 innings. That’s 10 strikeouts per 9. In his career, he has a 3.20 ERA with a 1.38 WHIP. This is helped by a massive 2011 season in Milwaukee in which Axford was 9th in Cy Young voting and 17th in MVP voting. What can he do now with the Oakland Athletics?

Axford has a heavy reliance on his four seam fastball, which touches 99 MPH (and has reached 100 in the past). He has a slider and a curveball which is used mostly to throw hitters off, but the majority (39) of his strikeouts are delivered through heaters. His bigger specialty is tallying up groundballs: in 2015 he had a 56.1% groundball percentage, a career high.

However, Axford does have his issues. But, you say, Axford was closing for the Rockies just last year! True, but Axford lost the job in late July. Only in the middle of August, when the Rockies, the team with the worst ERA in MLB, lacked any other closing options, did Axford reobtain closing duties. He also has a .348 BABIP on his fastball, meaning Colorado’s shoddy defense did not help his cause.

But, consider the A’s own defense, and one has cause to worry when Axford is toeing the rubber. He also pitches as if Frankie Valli kept telling him to “walk like a man;” he had a career worst 1.58 WHIP last year due to a high walk rate. Not to mention, Axford is 32, and only gets older each day.

More from White Cleat Beat

So why should Billy Beane, David Forst and company even have thought to invest in him for these next two years?

  • He’s alright in the American League. When he pitched for Cleveland in 2014, he has a 3.92 ERA and 10 saves.
  • He has a 99 mph fastball. That’s not bad. That’s faster than Sonny Gray, Ryan Madson, and Sean Doolittle, by comparison.
  • His upside is pretty huge. He was the full-time closer for the Brewers from 2010-2012 and has 141 career saves. In 2011, he had a 1.95 ERA.
  • He has more than one pitch to fool hitters including the aforementioned curveball and slider.
  • He got two quick outs in yesterday’s Cactus League game before giving up two walks, but struck out the next batter to end the inning.
  • He happens to be a fantastic film critic and is usually correct on his Academy Award predictions.

But really, when he is a tool that does not have to be relied on for the last three outs, he is very successful. In St. Louis and in Pittsburgh, as a non-closer, Axford was able to do well and maintain at least one strikeout per appearance on average though he was only on each team for 10-11 innings each. Bob Melvin will need Axford to be a veteran guy who will get outs in the middle innings when the team has some leeway, and that is where Axford has been best. Axford will serve as an excellent bridge to Madson or Doolittle.

Next: A's 2016 Preview: Reliever Ryan Dull

Will John Axford be the best middle reliever the A’s have? Or will he end up usurping the closer’s role somehow? Let us know in the comments below.