Oakland Athletics Will Have to Choose Between Clippard, Doolittle


The Oakland Athletics finished the 2014 season tied with the Houston Astros for fewest team saves in the American League with a whopping 31. For the A’s, left hander Sean Doolittle led the charge out of the bullpen with 22, but Oakland got little help from their other pitchers.

Doolittle was the most consistent option in the closer role last year, converting 22 of 26 save opportunities. However, fellow members of the A’s bullpen did not fare so well when their number was called. Luke Gregerson converted three of 11 opportunities, Dan Otero blew three of four chances, Fernando Abad failed on both of his save opportunities, and Ryan Cook finished with just one save out of three chances on the year.

After adding in an Eric O’Flaherty blown save, the numbers reveal that the A’s blew a grand total of 20 saves over the course of the 2014 season. It doesn’t take a mathematician to see that converting 31 saves in 51 chances — a 60.8 percent success rate — was huge coming down the postseason stretch.

The inconsistency out of the bullpen was also a key factor in how they blew their chance at winning the AL West division crown. It also cost them dearly in the wild card game against the eventual American League champion Kansas City Royals.

In that wild card game, Oakland held a 6-2 lead heading into the bottom of the eighth inning against the Royals. It was a win-or-go-home contest and the A’s blew their lead by allowing three runs in the eighth inning and another run in the ninth. Oakland took an 8-7 lead in the top of the twelfth, but then blew their second save of the game in the bottom half of the inning. The Royals rallied to win the game 9-8, and sent the A’s into the offseason.

Doolittle currently has a slight tear in his rotator cuff however and will likely miss the beginning of the 2015 season. During his absence, the team will turn to former Washington Nationals pitcher Tyler Clippard to be the anchor of the bullpen.

Clippard was the closer for the Nationals in 2012 and converted 32 of 37 save opportunities, and compiled a 3.72 ERA before turning the role over to Drew Storen for the past two years. Throughout his career, Clippard has always had more success as a set-up man, rather than a closer. In 2011 the former ninth round pick posted a 3-0 record for Washington with a career-low 1.82 ERA. During that season, he struck out 104 batters and only allowed 48 hits in 88.1 innings pitched.

Sep 26, 2014; Arlington, TX, USA; Oakland Athletics manager Bob Melvin (6) watches his team take on the Oakland Athletics during the game at Globe Life Park in Arlington. The Athletics defeated the Rangers 6-2. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

In the two years with Storen entrenched as the team’s closer, Clippard was pushed back to the eighth inning role that he’d grown accustomed to in the early parts of his career. Clippard posted back-to-back winning seasons (6-3 and 7-4) while maintaining an ERA under 2.50 in each season, including a 2.18 mark in 2014.

The two-time all-star has put up very consistent numbers over his eight-year career, and is a brilliant addition to the Oakland Athletics’ bullpen for the 2015 season. With a career win-loss record of 37-25, a 2.88 ERA, and 548 strikeouts in 491 innings pitched, Clippard is a force to be reckoned with and will be a strong fill-in for Doolittle as the closer at the beginning of the season.

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But what will Oakland manager Bob Melvin do when Doolittle returns from his injury? Will he stick with Clippard if he’s performing well in the role? Will he move Clippard to his “more comfortable” role as the set-up man and return the closing role to Doolittle, the man who earned it last season?

These will be some questions that will be answered in due time by the A’s management and coaching staff. But if Clippard is getting the job done efficiently, Melvin may not automatically give Doolittle the closer’s job back the moment he returns. The A’s may very well go to another “closing-by-committee” to ease Doolittle back into the role. But at this point it’s all just a large assumption of the direction Melvin will go.

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