The A's had bullpen issues galore last season. It seemed no lead was ever safe, keeping manager Bob Melvin and fans on pins and needles.
Oakland's front office went out and made several moves this offseason to make sure those same bullpen blues don't happen again this year.
So, how does the new group look with the regular season just days away?
The bullpen was one of many reasons why the 2015 Athletics failed. The club lost Doolittle early in the season and lacked the necessary depth to recover. This time around Doolittle has been supplemented by Madson and Hendriks.
Reports have Doolittle sitting around 90-92 mph this spring – well off his 94 mph peak. If this represents a new normal for the lefty, then he may have trouble holding onto a closer job. Doolittle is fairly unique in that he almost exclusively uses a high fastball. The pitch has a surprisingly high whiff rate even though it's so predictable. He also induces ridiculously high infield fly totals – those are just as good as strikeouts.
If Doolittle isn't all the way back from his shoulder injury, Madson may be next in line. He broke out as the Phillies closer in 2011 after half a decade as a top setup man. Injuries derailed his next three seasons. He finally returned to health last year with the Royals, posting a 2.13 ERA with 8.24 K/9, 1.99 BB/9, and his signature changeup. It was also good to see him recover his 94 mph velocity.
When Hendriks broke out last season, well let's just say I was skeptical. Hendriks threw a lot of bad innings with the Twins. However, he spontaneously gained four mph on his fastball last year while maintaining his signature command. The result was a 2.92 ERA, 9.88 K/9, and 1.53 BB/9. Hendriks wouldn't be the most visually impressive closer, but he could do the job better than most.
Rodriguez and Axford are set to fill middle relief roles. They both come with upside. Rodriguez is the more traditional upside play with good velocity, swing-and-miss stuff, and passable command. He throws a four seamer, cutter, and curve.
Axford, once a top closer for the Brewers, continues to reap strikeouts and walks. He had 10.02 K/9 and 5.17 BB/9 last year. A ground ball pitcher, Axford's lack of command prevents him from getting the most out of his stuff.
I'm sure I'm not the first to say this, Rzepczynski may have the most improbable combination of vowels and consonants in baseball. He's a purely lefty specialist who is carefully hidden from right-handed hitters. In certain leagues, his 20 hold upside in 35 innings can have real value.
Ryan Dull may have the inside track on the final bullpen job. If so, he'd be unlikely to accrue fantasy value as the long reliever. The righty did show off some decent whiff rates in a 17 inning audition last season.
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