2014 Fantasy Baseball: The Oakland A’s Revamped Bullpen
Tuesday was perhaps the most ridiculous day in the history of a baseball off-season. And I mean that in a good way. A total of 12 significant signings and trades went down, and that isn’t even taking into account the half dozen or so rumors that were spewed throughout the day. The Oakland A’s were one of the many busy teams, adding Jim Johnson and Luke Gregerson to an already impressive bullpen. It will certainly help the A’s compete in 2014, but what about your fantasy team?
In fantasy baseball, some owners treat saves like gold and will spill blood just to grab a few off the waiver wire. And as much as we don’t want to pay for saves (and we shouldn’t), paying attention to each closer situation is still very much a requirement if you want to stay ahead of your competition. So, let’s take a look at the who could end up getting some saves next year in Oakland.
The Closer: Jim Johnson
Well, that was obvious enough. He’s going to be paid like a closer and I’m sure the A’s want this to work out. But will it? The righty doesn’t get the typical strikeouts a high leverage reliever should. Johnson’s fastball has lost 1.5 MPH since 2011, but he did happen to increase stringing strike percentage last season. It still falls below average, however. As for batter contact, his O-Contact% went up and his Zone% went down with a lesser fastball. It is all a bit strange, and at age 30, a further decline in his stuff is likely. Not surprisingly, Johnson has outperformed his FIP and xFIP for three straight seasons, which only makes it tougher to believe in him.
The right-hander’s new home park is an advantage for fly-ball pitchers, and although Johnson is a groundball pitcher, he has had a homer problem last season so that should help. Johnson isn’t a bad pitcher, just not what you envision as a closer or even a high leverage reliever, but he has been getting the job done. His reliance on ground balls and his lack of swing and miss stuff means more balls in play. You can see a scenario developing where Johnson is snake bit by some BABIP misfortune during the early part of the season, costing him his closer role. He almost lost his job last year, and now he has even better competition behind him.
This is a tricky one to figure. Cook has the better stuff, but Gregerson has the better control and does well against left and right handed hitters. Cook struggled against lefties last season and if that continues, it may develop into a situation where he wouldn’t be given the chance to close out games very often. Gregerson has a number of sliders, which help him avoid a split disadvantage. Both pitchers strikeout almost a batter per inning, but Gregerson actually has the better swinging strike percentage if the two. Of course, Cook throws 94-95, while Gregerson throws 88-89, and high velocity is something one looks for in a closer. Assuming Cook can handle lefties better, and keep his recent strides in control; it would make sense for him to be the next closer in line. He also closed out games for a stretch during the 2012 season.
Certainly if these pitchers weren’t lefties, they too would be in the mix to close. And although that is still possible, managers tend to prefer righties over lefties in the ninth, even if it means using a less qualified pitcher. In this case though, Doolittle has picked up a couple of saves in the past, even ahead of Ryan Cook. Even so, you imagine it would take at least three lost jobs before Doolittle really gets the chance to close.
Several surprises would have to happen before either of these guys got a chance to close out games.
It is likely I will not be drafting Jim Johnson this season. Between the red flags that pop up when looking at his performance, to the fact that I don’t want to pay the price tag for a player who benefited from 50 saves, it is obvious he will be gone before I decide he is worth the value.
As of today, if I had to choose a closer in waiting, it would be Ryan Cook. To be honest, at the end of this piece, I thought I would be writing the name Luke Gregerson. I am assuming Cook fixes his platoon issue, and since one did not exist in 2012, it seems logical that it is a problem he can fix. He even increased his changeup usage last season as his third pitch. It helps that he has been in Oakland for the past couple of seasons and established himself as a trusted reliever. If Cook keeps his control and solves his issue verse lefties, he should be the next in line for saves