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Blake Treinen, the true MVP of the 2018 A’s

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The closer held together the ravaged pitching staff and became the backbone of the team.

A’s record-setting closer Blake Treinen.
Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images

Recently here at Athletics Nation, the staff voted on the annual AN 2018 Player Awards. Matt Chapman was the recipient of the team MVP, garnering seven first-place votes and three second-place votes. We were all in agreement about the team Cy Young as Blake Treinen was unanimously crowned winner. Pitchers were excluded from AN’s MVP vote, but the results made me wonder — if given the opportunity, how many of us would have given Treinen a first-place vote for MVP? He would have received at least one nod, from me.

We already know that Treinen had one of the best seasons for a reliever in MLB history and that he was placed on enough MVP ballots to finish 15th in the voting, ahead of Mariners closer Edwin Diaz by two points. He also finished sixth in the Cy Young voting, again ahead of Diaz, the only other reliever to receive votes. He became the first pitcher in MLB history to collect 100+ strikeouts (100), 30+ saves (38) and have a sub-1.00 ERA (0.78) in a season. His 0.78 ERA was the lowest ERA for a pitcher ever with at least 80 innings pitched. He allowed just seven earned runs all season and only two homers.

The numbers pretty much speak for themselves, letting you know just how good Treinen was over the long six-month, 162-game season. What they don’t fully tell you is what Treinen really did and really meant to the 97-win 2018 Oakland A’s.

Texas Rangers v Oakland Athletics
A’s catcher Jonathan Lucroy and closer Blake Treinen celebrate another Athletics’ victory.
Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

There’s something I called Treinen often throughout the year in my game recaps, analysis pieces, even while commenting in the AN community. The only way I found to describe what Treinen had been to the team, at almost any and every point during the season, was to call him a “godsend,” a true “gift from the baseball gods.” When you really think about it — where would the A’s have ended up without him?

It’s no secret that the A’s pitching staff was decimated from day one in 2018. Over the first three months of the season Treinen was asked to get between four and nine outs in 13 of his 33 appearances. He did so successfully, consistently, and he never wavered, helping shorten games and pick up the slack left by the unreliable rotation. Treinen kept dominating even after starters Trevor Cahill and Brett Anderson returned from stints on the DL and after reinforcements were brought in, like Mike Fiers, Jeurys Familia, Fernando Rodney and Shawn Kelley.

It’s not often that you find a lights-out closer like Treinen, who can maintain top-notch velocity for multiple innings and use it to deliver more than just a closer’s customary three outs. He didn’t keep up that same longevity in the second half of the season, but he was able to maintain a similar overall workload, and more importantly, the same level of domination.

Treinen, Apr-Jun: 0.89 ERA, 1.96 FIP, 40⅔ ip, 4+ outs 13 times
Treinen, Jul-Sep: 0.68 ERA, 1.67 FIP, 39⅔ ip, 4+ outs 6 times

He had been carrying the team’s injury-beleaguered pitching staff in the first half, stepping in to take over early and often whenever the leverage got high. Reinforcements in the second half (especially Familia) meant he didn’t need to keep playing superhero quite as often in the final months, but he was still untouchable — in fact, he was even better once he went back to mostly one inning at a time, serving as reminder that going longer increases the difficulty for a reliever and makes his ERA even more impressive. He led all MLB relievers with 15 instances of throwing 4+ outs to finish a game, all of them ending in victories (7) or saves (8).

Blake Treinen was the true MVP of the Athletics in 2018. He was always ready to pitch as many innings as needed on a team that often needed it, he was darn-near unhittable in every situation, and he carried the pitching staff through the first half to an extent that closers rarely do. He practically carried the weight of the entire staff through what could have been a disastrous season, and without him they surely drop a few of those 97 wins.

You can make a team MVP case for a number of members of the 2018 A’s, but Treinen offered two things: the biggest and most reliable constant for the team, and the least replaceable service. The lineup was good enough to lose one big hitter now and then, and in fact Khris Davis and Matt Chapman each spent time on the DL, but Treinen was the last line of defense for a pitching staff that fell apart, and without him there would have been no more answers. Without Treinen and the exceptional year he had, the A’s would not have once again been able to “shock the baseball world” by being legitimate contenders, finishing the year with fourth-best record in all of MLB.

Poll

Would you have given your first place AN MVP Award vote to Blake Treinen?

This poll is closed

  • 56%
    Yes! I would have given him my first place vote!
    (156 votes)
  • 7%
    No way! Khris Davis khrushed 2018 and is the A’s MVP!
    (21 votes)
  • 35%
    Nope, sorry! I’m going with Chappy all the way!
    (97 votes)
274 votes total Vote Now