Note: This is the 14th article in a multi-part series assessing the Oakland A’s 2010 season. Read the 13th installment here.
By now, every Oakland Athletics fan knows the team led the American League in overall staff ERA in 2010, and they the starting pitchers led the major leagues in starters’ ERA, as well.
So how did the bullpen fare last season?
Not as well as the starters, that’s for sure.
The A’s bullpen finished sixth in the AL with a 3.83 ERA, trailing all four AL playoff teams and the Chicago White Sox. Overall, the Oakland relief corps finished 12th in the majors.
Certainly, it wasn’t a weakness on the 2010 team, but with a better bullpen, the A’s can certainly challenge for a playoff spot in the AL this upcoming season. Perhaps the biggest issues were managerial mismanagement and injuries, in truth.
And for the most bullpen stability, a team needs an anchor in the closer role — and Oakland has that in Andrew Bailey. In his second major-league season, Bailey posted a 1.47 ERA with 25 saves. But he only pitched in 47 games, missing time with injuries — and that threw the whole bullpen out of whack at times.
Lefty Craig Breslow turned in an admirable season in the bullpen, posting five saves in Bailey’s absence. He also notched 16 holds with a 3.01 ERA on the year — while striking out 71 batters in 74 2/3 innings, too.
Brad Ziegler finished the year with a 3.26 ERA, but that number doesn’t tell an honest truth. Ziegler struggled, taking a bullpen-high seven losses on the year, and his strikeout-to-walk ratio was downright mediocre: he struck out only 41 batters in 60 2/3 innings, while walking 28 batters. Putting that many batters on base with a free pass is a big problem for a reliever.
Jerry Blevins was even worse than Ziegler in that department: the lefty struck out his fair share of batters, but he gave up more hits than innings pitched. His 3.70 ERA still looks respectable, but Blevins was one of those players that every fan feared when he entered a tight spot.
After a stellar 2009 season, Michael Wuertz began the year injured and rarely flashed his previous form. Finishing the year with a 4.31 ERA, Wuertz was often very inconsistent — resulting in a lot of anxious moments. Wuertz still had the ability to strikeout hitters regularly, but his walks were way up.
Overall, these five players combined for 62% of the relief innings in 2010, but the damage done by other pitchers getting significant action was hard to overcome. Henry Rodriguez (4.55 ERA in 27 2/3 innings), Boof Bonser (5.09, 23), Tyson Ross (5.12, 31.2) and Chad Gaudin (8.83, 17.1) accounted for 23% of the relief innings last season, and when almost a quarter of your bullpen innings are that bad, it makes it hard for a team to stay in games when the offense isn’t playing well.
So with some better health and improved fringe relievers, the A’s could have won some games last year that they lost. And when the chance to get to the playoffs falls short by a few games, it’s the bullpen meltdowns which often get remembered most.