Oakland Athletics: Who Will Win the Remaining Bullpen Job?

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Right-Hander Ryan Dull

Easily the best arm of the bunch, Ryan Dull should be at the very top of this list. It’s been stated numerous times, both on this site and by the A’s staff, that Dull has impressed this spring with his composure. Despite his small stature – Dull is just 5’10” and 175 pounds – he’s been a force against opposing Cactus League hitters. He’s kept batters off-balance and has given up just two hits and a walk in 3.2 innings. He’s also struck out five of the 17 batters he’s faced.

Dull, who was drafted in 2012, has risen steadily through the system.

He made his debut with the A’s in 2015, pitching 11 scoreless innings to start his career. By the end of the season, he had posted a 4.24 ERA over 17 innings. He also struck out 16 and walked just six batters – the walk rate is a tad high, but so is the strikeout rate, giving him fairly respectable numbers for a rookie reliever on a bad team.

More interestingly, four of his eight earned runs were home runs. Dull had never given up home runs at a disproportionate level before, with his minor league home run per-nine rate always coming in at 1.5 or lower. It seems possible that this was a fluke, meaning his ERA should have been lower that it really was last season. His 4.05 xFIP, which normalizes his home run rate to league average and accounts for both good and bad defense, seems to support the fact that with fewer home runs, Dull could be even more successful. The gap between his ERA and FIP would be even larger if he had fewer walks, so seeing him cut back on those in Spring Training is certainly a good sign.

Dull’s most impressive outing the spring came when he found himself in a bases-load, no-outs situation.

A pair of errors and a walk got him into the jam, but he quickly struck out two batters and induced a fly out to escape the inning with no damage. The batter who walked was his fault, but the errors were not.

That is why is ability to strand runners is viewed as valuable here, whereas with Surkamp, it’s viewed as a liability. High left-on-base percentage is not always a good thing, because it typically shows that the pitcher has allowed a lot of traffic on the base paths. A better measurement is to see what percentage of inherited runners score, but Dull’s small 2015 sample size makes that nearly useless in this case. He allowed one of the three runners he inherited to score, but he was typically used in low-leverage situations, so it’s hard to determine his ability from such limited chances.

Regardless of how much of an asset Dull might be to the Athletics, the 26-year-old will likely begin his season in Triple-A due to the final name on this list.

However, unless Dull completely falls apart in Nashville, there’s no way that Oakland will be able to keep him there for long – no matter how many bullpen upgrades they made in 2016. The right-hander seems poised to have a big season for the Athletics.

Next: #1: The veteran left-hander