This week on the Oakland Futility Watch, we examine the woes of the Athletics’ bullpen—it’s bad. With an overall team ERA of 7.27, though, that’s a given. However, with such a young need and wins coming at a premium, it’s important to protect late leads (or tie situations) to enable the talented offense to gain confidence with victories. Likewise, the wins and saves bolster the attitude of the pitching staff as well, to help with momentum and future performance.
Oakland posted a 1-6 record last week to fall to 9-33 on the year. However, like the prior weeks beforehand, the A’s could have won more than that one time. Oakland is just 6-7 this season in game it was either leading or tied after the seventh inning, and even though the bullpen’s ERA (7.01) is better than the starters’ ERA (7.47), it should be easier to find quality relief arms that can actually hold a lead. The A’s are second worst in the majors with nine blown saves already.
Now, a “blown save” can occur any point after the fifth inning when a team has the lead. In games that have been tied after five innings, Oakland is just 1-7, demonstrating the bullpen is at its worst with the pressure on it to deliver. Another bad sad is the A’s in extra innings: just 2-4, when the whole game boils down to the bullpen. The team ERA in extra innings balloons to 12.00 for the season so far, which is an ugly number—especially considering the placed-runner rule.
So, while the starters aren’t stellar, they get no help from the bullpen, at all. Usually, a team’s bullpen is much better than its starters when it comes to ERA splits: look at the A’s last three playoff-qualifying seasons from 2018 to 2020, individually, there.
This is an extreme comparison, of course, since those four teams were talented and playoff bound. This season, not so much. But still … the bullpen needs to be better if Oakland wants to avoid the worst kind of history. Right now, Manager Mark Kotsay is hold the fort down, as the A’s scoring differential projects to the same record they actually have. He’s not hurting them—but he’s not helping them, either. That needs to change as well.