The Oakland A’s officially began their July trading season on Sunday, sending relievers Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson to the Washington Nationals. Click here to read more about the deal, including details and analysis.
In this post, we’re taking a look specifically at the A’s remaining bullpen, which now looks quite a bit different than it did last night. The two best arms are gone, and in their place will be right-handers Blake Treinen (acquired in the trade) and Simon Castro (called up from Triple-A Nashville). The full group:
- RHP Santiago Casilla (closer)
- RHP Liam Hendriks
- RHP John Axford
- RHP Blake Treinen
- LHP Daniel Coulombe
- RHP Zach Neal
- RHP Michael Brady
- RHP Simon Castro
Casilla obviously remains the closer, reports Susan Slusser of the S.F. Chronicle. If anything, his grasp on the 9th inning is presumably even tighter now that his top competition is gone.
Coulombe is now the only lefty, and Slusser names him as one of several possible options for the late innings. The others she mentions are Axford, Treinen, and Hendriks, all of whom have at least some experience in setup roles.
That leaves Neal, Brady, and Castro to mop up the rest of the innings, which will certainly be necessary as the rotation continues to get younger and less experienced. Even before a potential trade of Sonny Gray, the A’s are already getting starts out of two rookies (Daniel Gossett, Paul Blackburn) and an emergency stopgap (Chris Smith) thanks to a loaded disabled list (Jharel Cotton, Kendall Graveman, Andrew Triggs).
With that overall picture in mind, here’s an intro for the two new guys.
Treinen was originally drafted by the A’s, in the 7th round back in 2011, but he was sent to Washington two years later in the trade for John Jaso. Now he’s back!
In the meantime, he’s spent the last four seasons in the bigs for the Nats, in a variety of roles. He served as a swingman in 2014, did mostly low-leverage short relief in ‘15, became a setup man in ‘16, and got a brief (but unsuccessful) turn as the closer at the beginning of ‘17. His best campaign came in the setup role in 2016, including a 2.28 ERA, 3.62 FIP, nearly a K per inning, and a 26-of-28 success rate in save/hold chances. Unfortunately, this year has not gone as well.
Treinen, 2017: 5.73 ERA, 37⅔ ip, 32 Ks, 13 BB, 3 HR, 48 hits, 3.75 FIP
* 8-of-10 success holding leads: 3 saves, 5 holds, 2 blown
His peripherals actually aren’t bad, with solid rates of strikeouts, walks, and homers leading to a FIP that’s more promising than his bloated ERA. However, he’s given up a ton of hits, with a .381 BABIP that’s 50 points higher than his career mark and 100 points higher than last year. Whether that’s a fluke of luck or a sign of hitters making better contact remains to be seen; for what it’s worth, his 60.5% groundball rate is in line with his career norm.
That high rate of grounders is the result his power sinker, which he throws at least half the time. Brooks Baseball says it averages 97 mph and can touch as high as 101. He also mixes in an equally hard four-seam fastball, a slider around 89 mph, and an occasional changeup. This arsenal makes him devastating against right-handed batters, especially in the power department, but lefties fare much better against him — he carries heavy platoon splits, with left-handers posting an OPS more than 250 points higher than righties.
Add it all up, and Treinen is more than just a throw-in. He’s a legit MLB reliever, with the upside of a good setup man, at age 29 with three more years of affordable team control (2018-20). I asked the community at Federal Baseball, our Nats blog, and their opinions can be summed up thusly: he’s best suited in the 7th/8th innings, coming in to extinguish rallies by getting that key grounder when you need it, all while preferably never facing a lefty batter in an important situation.
Castro was a Top 100 prospect back in 2010-11, as a starting pitcher. The right-hander shifted to the bullpen in the upper minors, but even as a reliever he’s only cracked MLB for a couple of brief stints with the White Sox (2013) and Rockies (2015). Read more in my scouting report from February.
Castro, MLB career*: 4.76 ERA, 17 ip, 15 Ks, 8 BB, 1 HR, 3.87 FIP
* Numbers don’t include his A’s debut in Sunday’s game
The 29-year-old signed with Oakland last winter as a minor league free agent. He’s spent the year with Triple-A Nashville, where he’s posted gaudy strikeout numbers and done a decent job of holding leads in the late innings.
Castro, 2017 AAA: 3.38 ERA, 38 ip, 63 Ks, 21 BB, 3 HR, 3.59 FIP
The A’s wasted no time getting Castro into a game, as he pitched the 9th inning of Sunday’s 7-3 victory. He got the job done in five batters: a mammoth home run (by Abraham Almonte), a single, and three swinging strikeouts.
For now he’s filler and we shouldn’t specifically expect anything more, but things can change quickly in the world of relievers. Especially when you strike out that many batters.
And while we’re at it, a refresher on the six holdovers.
Casilla: Not a great closing option, but cromulent on a last-place rebuilding team. He’s getting the job done well enough this year (17-of-21 in save/hold chances, 3.70 FIP).
Axford: Mired in a lost season. Missed time to injury, then came back and walked everyone (15 BB in 20 innings) en route to a 6.30 ERA.
Hendriks: Should be awesome (3.35 FIP, 11.7 K/9), but hasn’t been for some reason (5.26 ERA). Still, has been adequate at holding leads (8-of-10 holds converted, including Sunday).
Coulombe: The only remaining lefty. His 2.81 ERA looks good, but opponents are making a lot more contact against him this year and hitting it in the air more as well — it remains to be seen if he can keep converting those batted balls into outs at such a high rate (.250 BABIP).
Neal: Long man who can start in a pinch. He throws strikes and he pitches to contact, generally leading to low rates of Ks and walks.
Brady: Off to a decent start through six games, as a 30-year-old rookie in a mopup role. In the minors he posted excellent K/BB rates.
Disabled list: RHP Ryan Dull, RHP Bobby Wahl, RHP Chris Bassitt
Top AAA prospects: RHP Jake Sanchez, RHP Tucker Healy
Other AAA lefties: LHP Felix Doubront, LHP Patrick Schuster
Oakland’s bullpen is certainly a weakness now on paper, lacking much late-inning firepower. However, that’s a minor inconvenience for a rebuilding team. There’s always the offseason to restock.