Oakland's 2013 Bullpen According To ZiPS

Bold prediction: Doolittle will close games for Oakland at some point in 2013. - Tom Szczerbowski-US PRESSWIRE

Part 4 of our series about 2013 ZiPS projections and Athletics Nation predictions.

Opening Night is just hours away! We've made our predictions about the outfielders, the infielders, and the starting pitchers, by weighing 2012 stats, 2013 ZiPS projections, and any other relevant information we had to work with. Today, we're going to conclude our series with a look at the bullpen.

I'm going to do these predictions a little bit differently than the others. Relief pitchers operate in very small sample sizes, and their performances can fluctuate wildly, so I'm not going to try to guess their stat lines. Instead, I am going to give a more subjective prediction for each pitcher. We'll go through the seven relievers on the Opening Day roster, and I'll make some notes at the end about some other pitchers who should play roles on the team. If you want more, you can read what I wrote about Oakland's top relievers earlier this month.

Grant Balfour

2012 stats: 74.2 innings (75 games), 2.53 ERA, 8.68 K/9, 3.38 BB/9, 2.57 K/BB, 0.48 HR/9
2013 ZiPS: 57.3 innings (61 games), 3.14 ERA, 8.95 K/9, 3.30 BB/9, 2.71 K/BB, 0.79 HR/9

Balfour set a career high in innings last year, and ZiPS thinks that he'll have a lighter workload in 2013. However, it also thinks that he'll increase his strikeout rate, despite his general decline in that department over the last several years.

My general prediction: Balfour will not be the closer at the end of the season. That could come about in any number of ways. He could just have a rough patch during the summer, get replaced in the short-term, and then settle back in as an effective setup man. Even worse, his advanced age, coupled with his career high in innings from last year, could lead to an overall off-year. Or, like any reliever, he could get hurt - he's already had a minor procedure on his knee this spring. Note that I'm not saying that Balfour will necessarily have a bad year. While I do think that he'll take a step back from his excellent 2012, there's no reason why he can't be good again this season. However, Bob Melvin has shown that he's not afraid to pass around the closer's role to the hottest hand, and I have a feeling that someone other than the Mad Aussie will be finishing games in September.

Ryan Cook

2012 stats: 73.1 innings (71 games), 2.09 ERA, 9.82 K/9, 3.31 BB/9, 2.96 K/BB, 0.49 HR/9
2013 ZiPS: 68.3 innings (67 games), 3.43 ERA, 8.70 K/9, 4.08 BB/9, 2.13 K/BB, 0.66 HR/9

ZiPS thinks that Cook will take a big step back. His ERA will shoot up and his strikeouts and walks will both go in the wrong directions.

My general prediction: Cook will indeed take a noticeable step back, and he'll hit the DL at least once (even if only for a minimum 15-day stint). As with Balfour, I'm not necessarily saying that Cook will have a bad year. A big step back means finishing with an ERA of 3 instead of 2, or finding himself in more 7th innings than 8th innings. Although Cook's ERA went up after the All-Star break last year, he actually pitched better - his 41/6 K/BB rate in the 2nd half was very impressive, and helped him overcome the inevitable regression of his unsustainable 1st-half BABIP (.103) and HR/9 (0.00). He should still be an effective setup man, but I don't see him taking the step forward and becoming the permanent closer this year - even if he does fill in for a bit, which is possible if I'm right about Balfour.

Sean Doolittle

2012 stats: 47.1 innings (44 games), 3.04 ERA, 11.41 K/9, 2.09 BB/9, 5.45 K/BB, 0.57 HR/9
2013 ZiPS: 71.3 innings (61 games), 3.16 ERA, 10.48 K/9, 3.41 BB/9, 3.07 K/BB, 0.76 HR/9

ZiPS thinks that Doolittle will come back to Earth a bit, especially in his walk rate.

My general prediction: Doolittle will be awesome again, and will close games at some point. I'm excited about Doolittle. His numbers last year were just ridiculous, and it is totally fair to wonder if he could improve - he's been a professional pitcher for about as long as Sonny Gray has. Of course, that also means that the league could adjust to him and send him to a sophomore slump, but I think that he'll hold strong. He'll keep striking out hitters in bunches and keep the baserunners to a minimum, and he'll finish the season with an ERA below 3. I think that Cook will be the first in line to replace Balfour if necessary, simply because he got a taste of closing last year and has a bit more experience overall, but that Doolittle will finish the year with more saves.

Jerry Blevins

2012 stats: 65.1 innings (63 games), 2.48 ERA, 7.44 K/9, 3.44 BB/9, 2.16 K/BB, 0.96 HR/9
2013 ZiPS: 57.0 innings (59 games), 3.79 ERA, 8.05 K/9, 3.47 BB/9, 2.32 K/BB, 0.95 HR/9

ZiPS thinks that Blevins got a bit lucky last year, and that his ERA will shoot up despite his peripherals holding steady.

My general prediction: ZiPS is right, and Blevins' ERA will shoot up despite his peripherals holding steady. Blevins put up an excellent season in 2012, but between a BABIP far below his career average, a high LOB%, and a declining strikeout rate, he's a good bet to take a step back this year. I still expect him to be solid, and he's proven to be remarkably durable over the years, but he won't be the go-to guy in the late innings that he was last year. I think that ZiPS' projection for him looks spot on.

Pat Neshek

2012 stats: 19.2 innings (24 games), 1.37 ERA, 7.32 K/9, 2.75 BB/9, 2.67 K/BB, 1.37 HR/9
2013 ZiPS: 56.7 innings (57 games), 3.49 ERA, 7.62 K/9, 2.70 BB/9, 2.82 K/BB, 0.63 HR/9

ZiPS doesn't have much to say about Neshek. It thinks that he'll stop allowing homers, but I'm not sure why; he's been prone to dingers throughout his career. It also has him down for a .317 BABIP, which is a far cry from his .221 career mark.

My general prediction: He's a reliever, and I like him. He'll probably be solid. His ERA won't be below 2 again, but it could be below 3 with Melvin using him properly. He'll stick on the roster all year, except for a stint on the DL in the middle of the summer sometime.

Chris Resop

2012 stats: 73.2 innings (61 games), 3.91 ERA, 5.62 K/9, 2.93 BB/9, 1.92 K/BB, 0.73 HR/9
2013 ZiPS: 58.2 innings (55 games), 4.29 ERA, 7.51 K/9, 3.68 BB/9, 2.04 K/BB, 0.92 HR/9

ZiPS thinks that Resop will regain some of his strikeout form, having posted a K/9 of 10.4 in 2010 and '11 combined. He'll also walk more hitters.

My general prediction: Resop's K and BB rates will stay closer to where they were last year, because they probably didn't change so drastically by accident. He threw more pitches in the strike zone last year than in '10-'11, which resulted in more swings from his opponents, more contact on his pitches, a huge spike in ground balls, and a decrease in swinging strikes. Basically, I'm saying that he started pitching to contact more, probably because he was walking too many hitters when he was trying to be a strikeout pitcher. I don't really know how Resop will do this year - heck, I'm not even entirely sure what he looks like or how to pronounce his name (REE-sop, I presume?). Of the seven pitchers in the current bullpen, I think that he has the best chance of being replaced for non-injury reasons.

Evan Scribner

2012 stats: 35.1 innings (30 games), 2.55 ERA, 7.64 K/9, 3.06 BB/9, 2.50 K/BB, 0.51 HR/9
2013 ZiPS: 59.0 innings (52 games), 4.27 ERA, 7.63 K/9, 3.36 BB/9, 2.27 K/BB, 1.07 HR/9

ZiPS isn't impressed. It thinks that Scribbles was in over his head last year, and that the dingers will be plentiful in 2013.

My general prediction: Scribner's 2013 will fall somewhere between his 2012 stats and his ZiPS projection. His ERA will be above 3, but he'll do solid work in the middle innings or in multi-inning mop-up duty. He'll stay healthy and spend the entire season in Oakland.

The Reinforcements

Here are the ZiPS projections for another handful of pitchers who are likely to see innings in Oakland in 2013, followed by a quick prediction for each guy. Note that, of this group, only Norberto, Chavez, Leon, and Otero are currently on the 40-man roster. The others can't appear in Oakland without a corresponding move, which usually involves another player either getting DFA'd or being placed on the DL:

Okajima: 47.1 innings (40 games), 4.00 ERA, 6.28 K/9, 2.85 BB/9, 2.20 K/BB, 0.76 HR/9
Ekstrom: 66.2 innings (52 games), 4.59 ERA, 6.07 K/9, 3.78 BB/9, 1.61 K/BB, 0.81 HR/9
Norberto: 55.1 innings (48 games), 3.91 ERA, 8.63 K/9, 4.88 BB/9, 1.77 K/BB, 0.81 HR/9
Chavez: 88.0 innings (41 games), 5.22 ERA, 6.34 K/9, 3.17 BB/9, 2.00 K/BB, 1.33 HR/9
Leon: 63.0 innings (45 games), 5.71 ERA, 6.43 K/9, 4.57 BB/9, 1.41 K/BB, 1.43 HR/9
Otero: 59.0 innings (48 games), 4.12 ERA, 5.80 K/9, 1.83 BB/9, 3.17 K/BB, 0.76 HR/9
Carignan: 31.2 innings (29 games), 3.97 ERA, 7.95 K/9, 3.69 BB/9, 2.15 K/BB, 0.85 HR/9

Hideki Okajima

Okakima has a contract clause similar to Brandon Moss's last year, whereby he can opt out if he hasn't been added to the MLB roster by June 1. Therefore, I expect to see Okajima in Oakland sometime before that date. I'm not very hopeful about him, though. I think that he'll either get hurt, or be ineffective. I don't think that he'll still be in the organization in October.

Mike Ekstrom

Ekstrom is my sleeper for the 2013 bullpen. I think that he's going to be what Scribner was last year, coming off the scrap heap (he was a minor-league free agent) to pitch quality, meaningful innings for the A's. He'll be in the pen at the end of the year, with a K/BB above 2.

Jordan Norberto

The key to Norbreto's success in 2012 was that he stopped walking so many hitters. His walk rate was still above-average, but it was reasonable, and he upped his strikeout rate as well. I'm not completely sold on Norberto. I think he'll slide back, with last year's sub-3 ERA rising into the 3.50-4.50 range. He'll still provide quality innings, but he'll also hit the DL at least once. He'll be "that guy" who shuttles back and forth to Sacramento all year, like pre-2012 Blevins.

Jesse Chavez

No.

Arnold Leon

Leon is most (in)famous for starting the Mexico-Canada brawl in the WBC, which I assume was just a big fight over which one of the U.S.'s neighbors loves us more since I'm an arrogant American. I find it unlikely that he'll pitch in the Majors this year, but he is on the 40-man roster, so there's at least a chance. I don't think that he'll play a significant role in 2013.

Dan Otero

Otero faced 6 Oakland hitters in a Cactus League game this spring, and didn't retire any of them. So naturally, Beane picked him up off of waivers. He's on the 40-man roster now, and I see him being this year's Jim Miller - a mop-up man who can absorb multiple innings at a time and be stashed in AAA when bullpen space is limited. He has some really impressive K/BB rates throughout his minor-league career in the Giants system, and he barely walks anyone.

Andrew Carignan

Carignan won't return from Tommy John surgery until mid-season, but he could see innings in Oakland in the 2nd half. I wouldn't expect more than a nominal contribution from him this year, though. Look for Carignan in 2014.

James Simmons

Simmons doesn't seem to have a ZiPS projection. I think that he'll get a cup of coffee late in the season, with impressive results. Look for him in 2014.

Pedro Figueroa

I haven't included Figueroa due to the news that the A's will stretch him out as a starter in Sacramento year. My official prediction is that this plan won't work, and that he'll be pitching out of the bullpen again by the end of the season. Figueroa is also on the 40-man roster at this time.

Your Turn

What's your take? Will Balfour close all season, or will someone else lead the team in saves? Who will get hurt, and who will step up to establish themselves as a permanent fixture in the pen? Let us know in the comments!

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