Balfour is one of the keys to the A's bullpen success. Cursing helps.
As of today, the A's bullpen possesses the 2nd best ERA in the AL (3rd best in MLB, behind the Reds and Rays, respectively). That said, the relievers themselves don't have the super shiny component stats you might expect: just going by FIP, the A's relievers rank only 6th, and in a way you would expect. A's relievers lead in HR/FB at 8.4%, are 7th in K/9 at 8.38, and dead last (!!!) in BB/9 at 3.68. Indeed, by WAR, given the BB rate, the A's rank 9th. What's more, if you take away Sean Doolittle's ridiculous 13.8 K/9-based 1.6 WAR, the A's relief corps looks pretty pedestrian. So, how are they achieving such a good result overall?
Well, home/away splits can tell some of the story. Save for the Rays, no team is as stingy at home giving up home runs as the A's are, at 0.68 HR/9 and 0.75 HR/9, respectively Strangely enough, though, there is also a dramatic split in the K-BB. The A's strike out the 2nd-fewest rate of batters at home, but also walk the fewest rate of batters at home. I don't really have a good explanation for this. Of course, a gaggle of season splits for pitchers who have 381 collective innings pitched probably still falls under the SSS (small sample size) flag. That said, Tom Milone has repeatedly mentioned how comfortable he is pitching at home, and how he relaxes his approach. Is that something the A's preach, or that the relief corps has adopted? I'm not really sure. I can tell you that the starters exhibit basically the same home K-BB split: They walk the fewest in the league at home, and strike out the 3rd fewest in the league at home, as well. While I do not subscribe, I understand Joe Sheehan wrote in July at length about the A's pitching and why he thinks it won't hold up over the long term.
Away from the Coliseum, the A's pitchers don't do anything particularly well or terribly: 8th in K/9, 6th in BB/9, and 4th (lowest) in HR/9.
Another potential explanation: A's pitchers in general have fared well in high leverage situations. With a 7.70 ERA, that puts the A's as 4th best. (I'll give you three guesses which team is the worst in the AL in high-leverage situations. Hint: they wear red). So, A's pitchers seem to be able to limit damage when in trouble. Indeed, the LOB% for the A's in high-leverage situations is a sparkling 22.9%.
Again, what does all this mean? I couldn't tell you. Is Sheehan right that the A's are due for some kind of a collapse? I'm not so sure. As the A's win more games, there are simply fewer chances for that regression to happen and more wins in the bank that cannot be taken away. Unfortunately, the same can also be said for Baltimore, even though they're outperforming their actual Pythagorean record by 12 games at this point. Here's hoping if anyone regresses it's them...
Join me mid-afternoon (4PM) for the game thread. RoadMilone is on the mound, opposed by some guy named McAllister, who's pitching at home for the Indians. A's are going for a new season high of 14 games over .500.!