It has come to my attention that the Oakland A's have a bullpen problem. It's possible that you've noticed the same thing. In particular, they're short on left-handed pitchers, as Sean Doolittle and Eric O'Flaherty are both on the disabled list. Therefore, Fernando Abad has been called on to be the lefty specialist, and that is a particularly unfortunate thing. Here are Abad's platoon splits from the last couple years:
Abad 2013, vs. LHH: 65 PAs, .790 OPS, 2 HR
Abad 2013, vs. RHH: 101 PAs, .619 OPS, 1 HR
Abad 2014, vs. LHH: 100 PAs, .527 OPS, 1 HR
Abad 2014, vs. RHH: 116 PAs, .475 OPS, 3 HR
Abad 2015, vs. LHH: 32 PAs, 1.338 OPS, 4 HR
Abad 2015, vs. RHH: 16 PAs, .550 OPS, 0 HR
(Note: 2015 stats do not include Saturday's game.)
Abad isn't necessarily bad against lefties, but he's been better against righties ever since he became a good pitcher in general. He's really best suited to pitch a full inning a time, but the one thing that there's no reason to do is reserve him to face only lefties -- that sounds like a great way to isolate his weakest split, which is the opposite of what this team is supposed to be about (that is, maximization of talent through optimization of situation). It's even worse when you consider that these LOOGY at-bats usually come in the biggest spots. Given all that, it's no wonder that his splits this year are so crazy, and you'd think that such a dramatic explosion would have spurred action by now. Instead, Abad was called on to retire the lefty Didi Gregorius on Saturday; fortunately, it worked this time. (Note: Abad retired three lefties and a righty on Saturday.)
So, the A's have four right-handers whom they call on to pitch complete innings -- Clippard, Scribner, Rodriguez, and Otero. They have one lefty, Abad, who is cast as a LOOGY but should really be in that first group. Then they have two pieces of filler, Arnold Leon and Angel Castro. Leon has some talent and has generally been a starter in the minors, and it's arguable that he should still be doing that to stay stretched out and see if he can be a backup plan for the rotation. Castro is a 32-year-old who never made it as a starter and doesn't yet have any apparent upside as a reliever.
Of course, the A's have the this guy dominating in Triple-A:
2015: 31⅔ innings, 1.42 ERA, 32 Ks, 12 BB, 1 HR, 19 hits
vs. LHH: 42 PAs, .199 OPS, 2 BB
vs. RHH: 76 PAs, .648 OPS, 10 BB
(Note: Overall stats include Saturday's game, but platoon splits do not.)
That pitcher is none other than Pat Venditte, the ambidextrous sensation who pitches with whichever hand he thinks will piss off the batter more. I would support Venditte making his long-awaited MLB debut as soon as possible just because I want to see him pitch, but this isn't even a cry for a novelty to spice up a quickly sinking season. He's showing that he's good enough.
Note that the .199 vs. LHH up there is not a batting average. It's an OPS, as in 3-for-39, all singles, with two walks and 12 strikeouts. Furthermore, those innings have come in only 16 appearances, because he's had a dozen outings of more than three outs, and nine that each totaled at least six outs -- this is related to the fact that he can spread his workload between two arms and doesn't need to be lifted for platoon reasons. Sure, his 10% walk rate is a bit high, but he's only issued one free pass in his last six games (9⅔ innings, 39 batters faced). He's striking guys out, he's limiting good contact, and he's not giving away too much for free -- you can never fully guess how well someone will make the jump from the minors to the bigs, but you can definitely say when he has nothing left to prove in Triple-A. After years of success in the face of unenthusiastic scouting reports, Venditte clearly has nothing left to prove, and the A's of all teams are supposed to be the one who gives chances to deserving players regardless of their perceived defects.
So, why isn't he here right now, when it seems like you or I might be worth a shot in the pen? It comes down to the fact that the relief corps is more crowded than it looks.
- Eric O'Flaherty is set to return any day now from the disabled list
- Edward Mujica isn't hurt quite as bad as it appeared live, and he could be back in the next couple weeks
- Sean Doolittle has hit a setback and is out for at least two weeks, but he's not done yet
- Ryan Cook, in 8 games since going down, has 7 scoreless outings, 3-for-4 saves, 5 Ks, 2 BB, 1 HBP in 8⅓ innings
- R.J. Alvarez, in his last 7 games, 6 of them scoreless: 8⅔ innings, 2.08 ERA, 11 Ks, 2 BB
When O'Flaherty comes back, he will likely take Castro's spot. That will also mean that there's finally a second southpaw in the pen, and one who is actually good at retiring lefties. When Mujica comes back, he will likely take Leon's spot, and the A's will have their new setup man back in the picture. At that point, there isn't really any room for anyone else, and everyone is either a veteran or is out of options and can't necessarily be sent down just to make room.
But what about in the meantime? Mujica isn't back yet, and even two weeks of Venditte over Leon could be worthwhile. On the other hand, Leon has held his own in 5⅓ innings so far, with seven strikeouts and only one walk, and if the A's were sick of him they could always turn to Cook or Alvarez. You see, Venditte isn't on the 40-man roster (whereas Cook and Alvarez are), and adding him means taking someone else off. That could mean DFA'ing Castro, which ... okay, that's not necessarily such a big price to pay. But the A's generally like to avoid losing players in transaction shuffles, and losing Castro might not be deemed worth it when there are other stopgap options available who are already rostered. Besides, the last time the A's stuck this hard with a journeyman pitcher who I thought was this pointless, it was Jesse Chavez, so I won't jump to 100% judgment on Castro even though he probably really is just filler. Hard to take my eye off those 21 strikeouts and 3 walks in Nashville so far.
As noted in the comments section by our transactions guru Jeremy, Venditte has minor league options and is free to shuttle back and forth between Nashville and Oakland once he's on the 40-man. It appears that the only thing standing in the way of adding Venditte is the potential loss of Castro, because either of them could serve in the same "8th man" role. Perhaps things would have gone differently if Venditte hadn't walked a lot of batters in early April, because there's a good chance that was the reason Castro was chosen over him initially -- and now that Castro is on the 40-man, he automatically gets the nod each subsequent time even though he's probably not the best option anymore.
At this point, I would take Clippard, Scribner, Mujica, and probably Otero and O'Flaherty over Venditte. Abad is a disaster right now, but I'm not willing to cut him and lose him quite yet. Rodriguez has been good-not-great, but he is also out of options and could be lost if he's sent down. Jeremy notes in the comments that Rodriguez would have to clear waivers in order to be sent down, and that even if he did clear them he could elect to become a free agent. I am confident that he would not clear waivers right now, and therefore demoting him is not an option for making space.
Pat Venditte is probably one of the seven best relievers available to the A's right now, but due to the current landscape it's tough to actually get him on the team. There aren't enough open spots, and the ones that exist at this moment are earmarked for imminent returns by two key veterans. Even if we got to see him debut right now, his stay would probably be brief until the next injury domino falls. The A's have backed themselves into a corner by calling on at least a half dozen options before Venditte, and now they'll need to wait for a more proper time to free him.