Oakland Athletics: Best Bullpen in Baseball?


The Oakland Athletics can have baseball’s best bullpen in 2015. Yes, I’m fully aware the Kansas City Royals still exist. My perspective is equally cognizant of how Kelvin Herrera, Kansas City’s third best reliever, would be far and above the top reliever on most teams. But super quietly, Oakland’s bullpen indeed has juggernaut potential.

Who are the main names to consider? In the late-innings, Tyler Clippard will close as Sean Doolittle recovers from a slight tear in his left rotator cuff. The left-handed Doolittle is expected back sometime during April.

Both Ryan Cook and Dan Otero have the versatility to span from middle relief to late innings in contests. Fernando Abad and Eric O’Flaherty are both lefties comfortable facing opposing batter’s from either side of the plate.

More from Oakland Athletics

The names above reveal how this is a deep group. That’s without even mentioning promising, unrecognizable names such as R.J. Alvarez, Pat Venditte and Eury De La Rosa. Along with Evan Scribner and others, these Spring Training participants are all capable of contributing at the MLB level.

Part of why I’m so high on Oakland’s bullpen is the depth and versatility. Doolittle’s splits reveal that he owns lefties and righties alike: .117 versus lefties, .192 against righties in 2014. RHP Clippard is an inning-eater who held righties to a .126 clip last year. This left/right-handed combination should be a nasty force throughout 2015. As Doolittle misses time, Clippard can lock down the ninth, but Abad and others can be used in late-game matchup situations.

Are Clippard and a healthy Doolittle better than Wade Davis and Greg Holland, the Royals’ eighth and ninth inning staples? Probably not. But the Royals don’t have Otero, someone who ate up 86 2/3 frames and rocked a 56% ground ball rate in 2014.

They don’t have an Abad, either. A lefty with a 1.57 ERA in 2014 who silenced batters of both handedness. Kansas City and other bullpens might be stronger at the back end, but Oakland has an argument for more overall depth.

More from Call to the Pen

Kansas City brought back Jason Frasor and also has Luke Hochevar returning. So it’s not as if they lack depth in any area. Throughout a 162-game season, however, Oakland’s group might be more trustworthy. This is especially true if Cook can rediscover his All-Star form from 2012. Injuries and command issues crippled his 2014 campaign, but a shred of progression means Oakland has yet another beast present.

Why do I consider Oakland’s bullpen being possibly more reliable than any other? They don’t have a slew of hard-throwing machines. Clippard, Abad and O’Flaherty mostly live in the low-90s. Doolittle and Cook touch the mid-90s. There’s not a concern for 2014’s innings toll impacting 2015. No one is throwing their arm out with velocity. And if one weapon goes down, such as Doolittle right now, Oakland has enough arms across its organization to fill in.

Keep one component in mind. This is less to determine a top bullpen and more to discuss Oakland’s potential. It’s only March, after all, so there is plenty of time to debate this topic. I’m broaching it now because Oakland’s relievers aren’t commonly discussed. It’s an underrated unit full of talent as they proved last season. When 2015 gets under way, however, this bullpen should be hugely responsible for any sort of success the A’s have.

Next: NY Mets: Is Daniel Murphy Better Than David Wright?