In 2018, Blake Treinen was an All Star closer for the Oakland A’s. His collapse in 2019 is a reminder of the volatility of relievers.
Heading into the 2019 season, the Oakland A’s did not have any concerns about their closer position. Blake Treinen had been coming off of an All Star season, notching 38 saves as he posted a 0.78 ERA and a 0.834 WHiP, striking out 100 batters in 80.1 innings. He earned votes for both the Cy Youn and AL MVP, as he continued his dominance since his acquisition as part of the Sean Doolittle trade.
As it turned out, the A’s did, in fact, have an All Star closer, but it was not Treinen. Instead, it was the surprising Liam Hendriks, who had gone from being a mediocre middle reliever to a dominant closer seemingly overnight. Treinen, in a matter of months, had gone from an All Star closer to an afterthought, leaving the A’s to eventually sign a minor league deal with the Dodgers.
It is easy to see why the A’s let him leave. In his 58.2 innings, Treinen posted a 4.91 ERA and a 1.619 WHiP, striking out 59 batters, but issuing 37 walks. He also gave up approximately a hit per inning, as his command both in and out of the strike zone had deserted him.
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Treinen had been down this road before. Part of why the Nationals were so willing to move a prospect such as Jesus Luzardo for Doolittle and Ryan Madson was due to Treinen’s struggles. At the time of the deal, he had posted a 5.73 ERA and a 1.619 WHiP with Washington, striking out 32 batters with 17 walks in 37.2 innings, while allowing 48 hits.
This also illustrates the nebulous nature of relief pitching. Short of the true greats of the game, relievers are everchanging. A closer may be great for a season or two, or maybe even five or six seasons, but most relievers eventually see their production drop off a cliff dramatically.
That has been the case with Treinen. He has had seasons of excellence, where he could be considered one of the better closers in the game. Then there were points in time like his 2019 campaign, or his time with the Nationals in 2017. In the end, the end of his time in Oakland is a reminder that counting on a reliever to dominate, outside of those rare exceptions, is often a fool’s errand.
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Blake Treinen appeared to have turned his career around with the Oakland A’s. Instead, he showed why relievers are always a gamble.