Athletics Bullpen: Free Saves

It’s time for our Depth Chart Discussions to begin. In an effort to suss out every team, we’ve divided them into four parts (infield, outfield, bullpen, and rotation) and will begin breaking them down for you over the next few weeks. You can find them gathered here.

I grew up playing against Sean Doolittle. He was even more feared as a hitter, but he was also a damned good pitcher. I talked to him once about his game plan and it was strikingly simple – use high fastballs to set up his hammer curve. These days, he’s still throwing that high fastball. The curve has gone extinct, but the lessons he learned as a kid have stuck with him. Of course, Doolittle is hurt, and the state of the bullpen is in flux until his return.

The Firemen

Sean Doolittle (DL)
Tyler Clippard
Ryan Cook

A shoulder injury has Doolittle sidelined, but tests have been encouraging. An early season return looks increasingly likely. We’ll want to confirm he has his 94 mph velocity and command before investing heavily. Thankfully, the injury should scare away fantasy owners, making him a potential buy-low candidate.

Clippard is widely assumed to fill in for Doolittle. The former Nationals setup man has some experience in the ninth inning. He locked down 32 saves in 2012 in what happened to be his worst season (it still wasn’t bad). Nationals fans will sometimes grumble that he doesn’t have the right character for the ninth inning. Personally, I’m more inclined to believe he had a couple unlucky outcomes.

He relies on a 92 mph fastball and a changeup. He’ll also mix in the occasional splitter and curve. A fly ball pitcher, Clippard typically posts well over a strikeout per inning while maintaining about 3.00 BB/9. He isn’t the most dominating candidate to close a game, but he’ll get the job done.

Don’t count out Cook. The right-handed former closer is striving to snatch the temporary job from Clippard. Cook has subtly taken his campaign to the media, where he’s saying he feels better than ever. He uses a 95 mph fastball, slider, and change to retire hitters. Keep an eye on the situation as spring progresses.

The Blue Collar Crew

Dan Otero
Fernando Abad
Eric O’Flaherty

Otero is a ground ball specialist, the kind you can ignore entirely for fantasy purposes. Last season, he had just 4.67 K/9. Abad has a more typical profile as a reliever, but the total picture remains irrelevant for fantasy owners. Expect a roughly 3.00 ERA with no standout categories.

O’Flaherty is interesting in the sense that the A’s view him as an emergency closer. He’s the top lefty in the pen. He profiles as a lefty specialist, but the A’s seem to view him as a full inning reliever. They used tabbed him for the ninth inning late last season, although he only picked up one save. He could snag an early season save or two if the A’s need a tough left-handed hitter retired late in the game. Otherwise, a low strikeout rate marks him as a poor fantasy asset.

The Others

R.J. Alvarez
Evan Scribner
Eury De la Rosa
Jesse Chavez

Listed last, Chavez is a near lock to make the club as the long reliever. I almost feel bad for Chavez. The 31-year-old broke out in 2014 as a starter. In 21 starts and 11 relief appearances, he posted 8.38 K/9, 3.03 BB/9, a 3.45 ERA, and tolerable peripherals. The A’s reward was to bury him on the depth chart.

Even if he manages to wrest a job from Drew Pomeranz, Jesse Hahn, or Kendall Graveman, he’ll have to fend off A.J. Griffin, Jarrod Parker, and Sean Nolin as they return from injury. Chris Bassitt is lurking too. If Chavez earns a rotation gig, expect one of the healthy names to fill the role of seventh reliever.

The club can roster two of Alvarez, Scribner, and De la Rosa to start the season. Alvarez is the most interesting. Acquired with Hahn for Derek Norris, Alvarez features a 95 mph fastball and useful slider. He hasn’t pitched enough at the major league level to get a read on his PITCHf/x numbers, but the early results include a near-15 percent whiff rate on his fastball. If he can improve the slider, he might be closer material.

Scribner is a command and control righty without any overwhelming skill. He’s the kind of player real teams use as their eighth reliever. Don’t be surprised if he reprises his old role by starting in Triple-A. Fantasy owners need not concern themselves.

De la Rosa could make the club as the second lefty, but he’s another non-factor from a fantasy perspective. The soft-tossing southpaw needs to tighten up his command and control if he wants to stick around in the majors. Again, fantasy owners can move along, nothing to see here.

Expect other names to emerge as candidates for the A’s bullpen. With underwhelming options like Scribner and De la Rosa in the mix, the groundwork is laid for a spring standout to seize a job.

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Is a slight tear in the rotator cuff as bad as it sounds? What are the chances Doolittle gets back to even 90% of what he was before?