Much of Billy Beane's magic comes not from finding superstars, but from his under-the-radar moves for unknown players who turn out to be solid contributors. The next player on our list is one such diamond in the rough: No. 56, Fernando Abad.
Name: Fernando Abad, aka Fernando Agood (no one calls him that)
Position: LHP, relief
Stats: 69 games, 1.57 ERA, 57⅓ innings, 51 Ks, 15 BB, 34 hits, 5 HR
WAR: 1.7 bWAR, 0.6 fWAR
How he got here: Acquired from Washington Nationals prior to 2014
2014 Salary: $525,900
2015 Status: 1st-year arbitration, under team control
2015 Salary: $1,087,500
The acquisition of Fernando Abad was one of my favorite parts of the last year. That might sound like an exaggeration, since he is merely a non-closer relief pitcher, but the way he came to arrive in Oakland illustrates why Billy Beane is one of the best general managers in the game. I present to you two offseason transactions:
November 25, 2013: Fernando Abad traded by the Washington Nationals to the Oakland Athletics for John Wooten (minors).
December 11, 2013: Jerry Blevins traded by the Oakland Athletics to the Washington Nationals for Billy Burns (minors).
Beane made a pair of deals with the Nationals in a span of two weeks. The first was to acquire Abad, who was out of options, for a non-prospect outfielder. (Wooten was merely solid last year as a 23-year-old in Single-A.) The second was to send them Blevins, who was also out of options, in exchange for a very real prospect, speedster Billy Burns. (Burns stole 54 bases in Triple-A last year and will likely be on Oakland's Opening Day roster.) The overall deal:
Fernando Abad and Billy Burns
-- for --
Jerry Blevins and some dude
And how did that work out? Amazingly, both pitchers threw identical numbers of innings last year, down to the out (57⅓ frames). The rest of their lines:
Abad, 2014: 1.57 ERA (238 ERA+), 51 Ks, 15 BB, 34 hits, 5 HR
Blevins, 2014: 4.87 ERA (77 ERA+), 66 Ks, 23 BB, 48 hits, 3 HR
I mean, that's not even close at first glance. Abad was lights-out, and Blevins got lit up despite having the advantage in strikeouts.
In reality, it wasn't quite that simple. Abad had a ridiculously low hit total and no track record of hit-suppression to back it up -- even if you chalk some of that up to the increased velocity he's shown since 2013, he still likely got a bit lucky on his batted balls. Blevins, on the other hand, had fantastic peripherals (high Ks, low hits, low HR), and while his walks did go up a bit he still appeared to pitch much better than his ERA indicates. Here's what happens when you strip out the batted balls and just look at Fielding-Independent Pitching (FIP, presented like an ERA):
Abad, 2014: 3.25 FIP
Blevins, 2014: 2.77 FIP
If you look at it that way, Blevins pitched better than Abad last year but Abad got better results. You can decide for yourself how much credit to give or take away from each guy, depending on how much you buy into FIP, but at worst I think it's fair to say that Abad was as good as Blevins and that he was more successful in 2014, even if some of that success was just good fortune. If you need a tiebreaker, I always prefer the guy with fewer walks (Abad by a mile), is younger (Abad by two years) and cheaper (Abad is two years behind Blevins in the arbitration process). Both can handle full innings because neither is cut out for a lefty specialist role -- Abad has actually been better against right-handers each of the last two years.
So. Billy Beane wanted a new lefty. He got one via trade, essentially for free. He then turned around and traded his equally good but older and more expensive lefty back to the same team for a way better prospect. And not even the next year or something, but two weeks later. It was an absolute robbery.
It's not all about hitting the jackpot and finding the next Josh Donaldson or Brandon Moss, though Beane is good at that too. Filling out all 25 spots on the roster is also important, and Beane knows how to pull quality role players out of thin air. Blevins himself was the nominal prospect acquired in the Jason Kendall salary dump in 2007 -- he put in six cheap, solid MLB seasons here and made a name for himself, and then Beane turned him into a new lesser-known (but equally good) reliever and another useful player while letting someone else pay for his arbitration years. And the circle of Moneyball continues.
As for Abad's actual season, it was about as awesome as his final numbers indicate. He didn't allow a run until May 7, his 15th outing of the year, and he'd allowed only two hits up to that point in 13⅔ innings. He struggled for about a week and a half after that, but then he ripped off another 14 straight scoreless outings. And, beginning on June 28, he closed out the year by allowing two total runs in his final 32 appearances, spanning 26⅓ frames. Furthermore, unlike some others in Oakland's pen, Abad's low ERA didn't mask any struggles with inherited runners -- he stranded 33-of-38 runners that his teammates left for him, and that rate of 13% of runners scoring was the best for any of Oakland's full-season relievers (just a tick better than Sean Doolittle). He allowed an earned run in only eight of his 69 games, and he never gave up more than two in a single outing. Oh, and in the Wild Card game, he entered in the deciding 12th inning with the winning run on first base and got All-Star Alex Gordon to pop out. Someone else lost the game later in the frame, but Fernando retired the only batter he faced. He was basically the best-case scenario for a middle reliever.
It seems unlikely that Abad will fully repeat his 2014 numbers. He was so good that there's a chance last season will prove to be the best of his career. But even if he only pitches to his FIP in 2015, with an ERA closer to 3.00, he'll still be a reliable arm in the pen who is under team control through the 2017 season.
2014 season grade, relative to expectations: A+ ... I hadn't really heard of Abad and just hoped he'd make the team. Instead, he was arguably Oakland's second-best reliever after Doolittle. He absolutely shattered my expectations and there is really nothing else within reason that I could have asked of him.
2014 season grade, overall: A- ... Only seven MLB relievers threw 45 innings and beat Abad's ERA+ of 238. The list is full of studs: Wade Davis, Drew Storen, Ken Giles, Kelvin Herrera, Dellin Betances, Greg Holland, and Huston Street. Most of them also threw more innings and struck out far more hitters, but that's still an impressive list to be on. He could have earned an A if his ERA had been backed up by stronger peripherals, and an A+ by becoming a closer (and succeeding). But if he repeats that low hit rate again next year, it will suggest sustainability and won't cost him on his grade.
There are exactly two videos on MLB.com of Abad pitching last year. One of them is him giving up a homer to the Astros. The other is him striking out Grady Sizemore to end a bases-loaded jam. I went with the second one, even though retiring Sizemore isn't as impressive as it used to be.
Abad played a small role in the Manny Machado saga. After Machado had identified himself as a crazy person and gotten all of Oakland to hate him, Abad, the A's unofficial Enforcer, stepped up to end the episode. Normally you would expect the pitcher to hit the batter with a pitch, but Abad didn't even bother going that far. He just threw inside a couple times, brushing Machado back. Machado responded like any normal person would by calmly taking his base after four intentionally inside pitches. Oh wait, no he didn't, he threw his freaking bat Campaneris-style, but with much worse aim -- instead of hitting Abad, the bat went up the third-base line, approximately 45 degrees in the wrong direction. Dumb and bat at aiming is no way to go through life, Manny.
Anyway, in the video below you can see Buck Showalter stare into a camera and try his very hardest to pretend like this wasn't 100% Machado's fault while simultaneously thinking about all the ways he will scream at his young player later that night. I know backing up your players is important and that Buck is one of the best at it, but this was a time to break script and say something more like, "I'm appalled at the actions of my player and the Orioles absolutely do not stand for this kind of behavior. He showed terrible judgment and we expect better. I hope no children were watching this game so that we didn't set a poor example for them." Instead he chastises Abad for ... almost hitting a batter with a pitch? While somehow implying that both men's actions were equally inappropriate? I still don't get it and I never will. Throwing a bat at someone is worse than throwing a pitch at someone.
The A's still got the last laugh, though. Here's Nelson Cruz pretending that he's Billy Burns and then finding out that he's actually a mid-30s DH with bad legs. Remember, the Mariners are paying Cruz a loooot of money this year.
Oh, Fernando, you goofball.
And finally, the A's Enforcer also knows how to celebrate a playoff berth.
No. 5: What a pro. pic.twitter.com/KpJB2u41UZ— MLB GIFS (@MLBGIFs) September 29, 2014
With Doolittle and Cook out of the picture to start the year, we'll be looking to Abad to step up again and take a key role in the pen.
* The only area in which Blevins out-did Abad was in holding leads -- Jerry converted all nine of his save situations (and earned holds in each), whereas Abad matched those nine holds but also added two blown saves. On one hand, both of those blown saves were really group efforts, and each involved Ryan Cook leaving Abad a giant mess of Astros on the basepaths and then Abad failing to fully clean it up. On the other hand, Blevins' all-time highlight in an A's uniform (Sept. 2012) involved him escaping a desperate ninth-inning jam against the Angels that he'd inherited from Grant Balfour. And that might not just be a coincidental curiosity -- Jerry has converted 47 of his 53 career save situations, good for a sparkling 89% success rate. That's really high. And also potentially meaningless. Or maybe it's meaningful because he's got that mythical je ne sais quoi that makes some relievers better in the bigger moments. No one knows, certainly not me. But it seemed worth mentioning, because I don't want to go this whole post without saying something nice about Blevins -- he's an eternal fan favorite here on AN. Also, note that Abad converting 9-of-11 save situations (earning nine holds, no saves) is also really good, even though it's less than Blevins' perfection.