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Oakland A’s fans split on confidence in bullpen

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They’ve improved a lot since their shaky first half.

Photo by Bob Kupbens/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Welcome to SB Nation FanPulse, a survey of fans across MLB. Each week, we send 30 polls to plugged in fans from each team. A’s fans, click HERE to learn more and join FanPulse.

A’s fans were asked last week if they have confidence in the team’s bullpen, and the result was almost an even split. When asked whether they think the team can contend with their current bullpen, 48% of fans answered Yes.

As that vote suggests, you can make arguments either way. On the down side, the A’s are tied for the AL lead with 22 blown saves, which might be the single biggest weakness that’s held the team back from taking over the Wild Card race. The ace closer and top setup man who led them in 2018 have struggled throughout this summer, and their big free agent splash has too. Overall, when it matters most, the group has been as beatable as any in the league, and you can further see that in their negative WPA and one of the worst Clutch scores on FanGraphs.

On the other hand, they’ve been much better lately. They’ve only blown one save in August, and they ended up winning that game anyway. The same thing happened with their last three slip-ups in July, so the last time they blew a save and lost was July 21. Blake Treinen did cough up one tie a couple weeks ago against the Cubs, but for the most part the pen has gotten the job done over the last month.

In fact, they may have been at their very best last weekend against the Astros. They did blow the save in the first game, but the next night they tossed seven sparkling shutout frames to outlast Houston in a 13-inning victory. By the end of the four games (three of them A’s wins), they’d combined for a line of 17 ip, 2 runs, 12 Ks, 4 BB, 9 hits.

Driving the improvement has been a shuffling of roles, plus a big addition. Treinen is out as the closer, replaced by newly minted All-Star Liam Hendriks. Lou Trivino is no longer getting the toughest setup/fireman assignments, which now go to Yusmeiro Petit, who leads the majors in inherited runners. And Oakland acquired Jake Diekman in July, giving them a fierce lefty in the late innings and pushing Ryan Buchter into a secondary southpaw role.

On top of all that, more help is on the way. Top prospect A.J. Puk is being called up on Tuesday, offering a power lefty arm that could potentially have a big impact. He’ll get a tough first test against the league-best Yankees this week, but he brings an upper-90s fastball and top-notch slider.

Overall this year, the A’s pen ranks 4th in MLB in fWAR, 7th in bWAR, and 6th in both ERA (4.01) and FIP (4.10), while measuring around average at stranding inherited runners. They’ve stumbled in the clutch more than expected, but that’s not necessarily a predictive trend moving forward. The talent is still there, and it’s still showing up most of the time.

Will the new and improved unit be enough to keep the A’s in contention, and to support them through October if they get there? Athletics Nation says: Maybe!

Team confidence

As for the normal weekly questions about the A’s, here are the latest results.

  • Confidence in direction of team: 88% (up from 83%)
  • Confidence in manager: 95% (down from 98%)

This survey was taken last Monday, just after the A’s had finished splitting six games in Chicago against the Cubs and White Sox. Oakland’s 88% mark is fifth in the majors, trailing only the Astros (100%), Indians (100%), Rays (95%), and rebuilding Orioles (92%), though unfortunately those three contenders are exactly the three the A’s are chasing in the actual standings. On the other end, 13 teams are below 70% and eight teams are under 50%, especially the Pirates (0%), Phillies (7%), and Red Sox (8%).

Regarding manager Bob Melvin, we still love him. Next topic.

As for the national question, it asked about juiced balls. I’m actually surprised the results weren’t even higher than this in favor of a resounding YES OBVIOUSLY.