Bob Geren and the Oakland Athletics Bullpen

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The Oakland A’s are 23-26, losers of 6 of their last 7 and in last place in the AL West. On top of all of that, there is turmoil in the bullpen. Recent comments by closer (at least while Andrew Bailey is hurt) Brian Fuentes strongly criticized Manager Bob Geren for his handling of the relief corps.

Fuentes complained about being brought into a game in the 8th inning and being summoned for an extra inning appearance in a tie game on the road.

Its very possible that Fuentes’ comments stem from frustration about his 1-7 record (including 4 losses in his last 4 appearances) and an overly strong commitment to the title of “closer.” Geren, from his own statements, believes in a more bullpen by committee approach and, whether you agree or disagree with that, it is certainly a valid theory.

However, perhaps Fuentes is on to something. In his 4 plus years managing, all with the A’s, Geren is 330 and 366. His highest single season winning percentage is last year’s .500 mark. Perhaps his handling of his bullpen has something to do with it. (Hint: it doesn’t)

A good and simple way to look at the effectiveness of Geren’s style of bullpen management is to look at the ERA of his relievers. Oakland has had one of the best starting staffs in the majors over the last couple of years so it also interesting to see how the ERA of the ‘pen compares to the starters. Lets start with 2007, Geren’s first year with the club. That year, the club ranked 9th in starter’s ERA with a 4.29 but 21st in reliever’s ERA.

They won only 76 games. 2008 was much better in earned run average, though not in record. Brad Ziegler and Huston Street were good as usual and lefty Jeremy Blevins posted a 3.11 earned run average helping the A’s bullpen to a 3.50 ERA, good for fourth in the pros. In 2009, Oakland was 3rd in the MLB with a 3.54 bullpen ERA but only 22nd in starter’s ERA. 2010, the year with the best record, saw the A’s have the number 1 ERA by the starting rotation and a ‘pen ERA of only 3.83.

It makes sense that over the last 4 years, many of the teams at the top of the bullpen ERA list are also playoff contenders and World Series champs. Though Geren’s clubs haven’t had great success, the stats show that it doesn’t seem to be the fault of his bullpen.

Perhaps Fuentes has some legitimate gripes with Geren, it can be frustrating when communication between players and coaches is not free and easy, but maybe Brian needs to see where his manager is coming from. He has proclaimed his affinity for using any pitcher in any situation and his normal closer is on the DL. Perhaps it’s not so ridiculous that Geren isn’t wedded to Fuentes, who himself has an ERA over 5, in 9th inning high pressure situations. It seems possible that, at least when it comes to managing a pitching staff, Bob Geren knows what he’s doing. Now if only he had some offense…….

-Max Frankel

Be sure to visit Off The Bench for more great baseball articles.

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