I Resign from the Craig Breslow Defense Team


Way back on August 10th Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle tweeted

"I think we can safely say that this is not Breslow's best season."

I disagreed at that time saying,

"@susanslusser He has been killed by a terrible .393 BABIP, which is why his defense-independent stats look great. Crazy bad luck."

But I have thought about that exchange for a while (I really do have nothing better to do) and the more and more I thought about it and the more and more I looked into it, the more and more I knew I was wrong - it isn't just crazy bad luck, he has safely not been having his best season.

Craig Breslow's defense-independent numbers still are in fact the best of his Oakland career. When the Athletics acquired Breslow off of waivers from the Twins in 2009 he put up a great 2.60 ERA but significantly worse 3.77 FIP in his 60 appearances. In 2010, the ERA inflated to 3.01 and along with it the FIP too went up, albeit incrementally to 3.91. This year he stands at a much inflated 4.12 ERA, but his FIP is a career best 3.36. 

That was the heart of my argument to Slusser (reduced to under 140 characters). There's lots of bad luck points in Breslow's line of work this year, it isn't his fault he has been so visibly terrible. Hitters have teed off of him at a rate that they have come down from a bit since August 10th when it was a .393 BABIP that he owned to now being a still insane .379. Most aiding his FIP perhaps is that he has a "time with the Athletics" all-time low HR/9 rate of 0.6 HR/9, because his 3.3 BB/9 aren't anywhere out of the ordinary for him, just as his 7.4 K/9 is about right too. As you can see it was luck not Breslow being bad.

Why then do I re-sign my defense of Breslow, the smartest man in baseball and a seemingly amiable guy with a beautiful left hand

Because I knew Breslow blew a lot of games and had a terrible ratio of helping to hurting the A's cause. For middle-relievers, I like a stat developed by Fangraphs called the shutdown and the meltdown. The shutdowns and meltdowns for those unfamiliar should be thought of similarly to saves and blown saves. But what about that middle reliever who is dealt a 5 run lead but fritters it away? No blown save. The way shutdowns and meltdowns work is they take any pitcher who has an impact on their team's chance of winning and increases it (shutdown) or decreases it (meltdown) by over 6%. In the end this number yields a number roughly on a similar scale to saves, where if a guy had 40 saves or shutdowns we'd say they are pretty good. Breslow has seven shutdowns so far, which for a middle reliever is those times you come into a game with a bunch of runners on and few outs, and get it done preserving the lead. However he has nine meltdowns, and we can all name a few from Breslow this year off the top of our heads. Not a ratio you'd want.

I surmised that everyone's perception that Breslow is bad must be due to this higher than normal ERA coupled with his propensity at blowing games this year. But then, I realized you know he has been put into some real crappy games when Bob Geren used him in low pressure situations and recently Bob Melvin has elected to do the same. What if the perception is just that Breslow is more often than not pitching in losing causes?

While it is true that Breslow has played in more games with the A's behind (30) than ahead (21) (and these numbers do reflect double counting from games where they were ahead and then behind and vice-versa, but I think that sort of states more psychologically than simply what it was when he entered), it really is startling to see the differences in how he pitches in each scenario. But let's take a look at when the game is tied - the temporary swing state between victory and defeat. In seven games has the game been tied while Breslow is on the mound, in these situations hitters have tagged Breslow for a .500/.526/.750 line in 20 plate appearances. No wonder, this would stick in fans minds! 

We want our relievers to do well in those tight situations, not blow it, but Breslow in 2011 has done just the opposite:

Leverage

OBA

OOBP

OSLG

SO/BB

High

.378

.415

.514

1.67

Medium

.316

.435

.579

1.75

Low

.300

.349

.408

2.67

The less the game is on the line, the better he's been.

That is why I resign from the Craig Breslow Defense Team. Breslow isn't a bad pitcher but as Susan Slusser said, despite the defense-independent totals showing this is in fact Breslow's best year as an Athletic, we can safely say that this is not Breslow's best season. It isn't what he has done so much as when he has done it - and for a reliever within little margin for error that really matters. 


Current Series

Athletics lead the series 2-1

Thu 08/18 WP: Ricky Romero (12 - 9)
LP: Trevor Cahill (9 - 12)
0 - 7 loss
Fri 08/19 WP: Rich Harden (4 - 2)
SV: Andrew Bailey
LP: Brett Cecil (4 - 6)
2 - 0 win
Sun 08/21 1:05 PM PDT

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