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Domingo Acevedo's Incredible 2021

While we were all sitting on our hands and waiting for baseball to return, I looked to the future at the A's expected roster. The A's arm barn is anything but decided and one intriguing member is Domingo Acevedo, who only got into brief hints of action in Oakland last year. As it stands now, "Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections" has the A's as an 85 win team with potentially the worst group of relievers in baseball. The A's have relied on superstar closers and their newest market inefficiency, soft tossing relievers who rack up outs in the vast wasteland we insistingly still call the Coliseum. Winning close games with a lights out bullpen has worked for the A's in 2018-20, and a lack of reliability in the late innings sunk the 2021 A's chances at further greatness.

This frustration was further compounded by Seattle taking the A's playbook and smacking them over the head with it in the later part of the season. The Mariners spent $ 1.9 M to pick up three multiple journeymen pitchers with unsavory resumes who were released by other organizations. Together that group put up 3.8 fWAR and vaulted the lackluster M's over the contending A's. We as fans are used to seeing the A's pluck less heralded players into high leverage situations, and Acevedo may be the next name in that pantheon. ZiPS DC has Acevedo reaching the 0.5 fWAR mark in 2022. For reference, 84 relievers put up a higher fWAR total in 2021, which would place him in the top half of all arm barn pitchers who threw more than 40 IP last year.

This may not seem spectacular, but Acevedo has already reached those superlatives. Acevedo was born in the western part of the Dominican Republic and signed with the Yankees for $ 7,500 in late 2012. He began his methodical accent through the New York farm system as a starter, and by 2017 was a top 10 prospect and sure fire future Yankee. The team believed in Acevedo, with his 6 foot 7 inch frame and 100+ MPH velocity on the mound. I uncovered this promotional video about his career at this point- combine his 75 FV fastball with the jerky delivery and one can see where the hype originated. In 2017, Acevedo appeared in the MLB Futures Game. The 23 year old fared poorly in his first glance at AAA with a 4+ ERA in 12 IP, but his AA numbers in Trenton were extraordinary. Among pitchers with at least 70 IP, Acevedo finished:

3rd in ERA (2.38),

1st in K-BB% (20.9%),

1st in K% (26.4%),

3rd in xFIP (3.25).

For this he was named the Yankees Minor League Pitcher of the Year. But then the entropy of the known universe kicked down the door and Acevedo spent most of 2018 injured- with a blister and a biceps strain. In July of 2018, during a Mets vs. Yankees game, Domingo German had an auspicious start. He gave up three runs in the first inning, then coughed up a home run to Yoenis Cespedes in the third. The Yankees lost 7-5 and German was sent down to the minors, and Acevedo was called up to replace him. He did not appear in a game before being sent back down. However, Acevedo again looked dominant in flashes at AA in what would become his final year as a starter. He has yet to start another game, shifting roles full time into the Yankees arm barn.

Acevedo had precision control but only two truly impressive pitches, that fastball and a change-up. Almost a year from that brief tease of a major league career, Acevedo was a 25 year with an ERA north of 4 taking up a valuable roster spot on the Yankees 40 man group. So, the Yankees released him and were able to pick him back up after the other teams passed on him. Being looked over like this is inspirational fuel for an athlete's fire. Surely, he was at least going to get a fair shot to eat up some innings for a competing Yankees team during the slow weeks of the 2020 season. He seemed to impress at least one writer with his spring training performance, but we all know how his 2020 ended- with time spent in the "Alternate Site".

Domingo Acevedo had been pitching for about a decade when the A's signed him to a minor league deal in November 2020. On their way to another pennant contending year, the A's were constantly striving for undervalued gems, announcing Acevedo with Frank Schwindel in the same press release. At 27, Acevedo was scheduled to start the year in the Aviators arm barn, a daunting task for anyone just because of the elevation of Las Vegas, and the elevation of its many opponents. In the first series of the season, Acevedo racked up 4 K's in 3 IP and collected a save. The next series vs. Reno was not as kind- 2 ER in 2 IP. But he bounced back with 6 K's in 3 IP for the next series.

By late June, Acevedo had amassed 16 IP and "struck out 27 of 64 batters faced (42.2%) while walking just three (4.7%)." That was enough for the A's to demote Luzardo and replace him with Acevedo. This move created a few assumption at the time, one of them being that the A's were not pleased with Luzardo's work as a reliever, where he was no longer seen as a starter. It is no wonder that, in an attempt to win a World Series, the A's traded 6 years of a temporarily non impactful prospect for 55 games of a superstar.

At this point of the season the A's were rolling with only one lefty- Jake Diekman- in the bullpen, with Melvin mentioning on the managers' show that Deolis Guerra was "like a lefty" because of his exemplary change up. This was not comforting at all, and eventually the A's front office remedied the error by signing Sam Moll, a LHP who had not appeared in the majors since 2017. To make room, Acevedo was again sent down after three appearances vs. TEX. A solid debut, then he gave up 2 ER in as many innings. Back in Vegas, over his next four IP, Acevedo gave up five runs but seven K's. The A's seemed to have no need for his services, although that would change in a heartbeat.

He went a month withing yielding another earned run and struck out ten batters on his way. In between these appearances, Acevedo was released off the A's 40 man and re-signed, in a bit of cruel contract illusion that again gave every other team the opportunity to give Acevedo his shot. Again, no one took the bait and he re-signed with Oakland. This is a part of baseball overlooked in the recent CBA discussions that I find potentially damaging, or at least "unfair". By mid-September Acevedo was establishing himself as the dominant reliever for Las Vegas while the A's saw a playoff spot slip further away through blown saves. Finally on September 14th, the A's released Burch Smith in exchange for Acevedo.

A's closer Lou Trivino was in a rough patch and suddenly, the team only had one wild high velocity reliever and an entire arm barn of junk ballers. Which necessitated the Acevedo call up. In the middle of a dire pennant race, Acevedo gave the A's 7 IP, mostly in low leverage situations when they were already losing but looking at saving those dwindling "A team" relievers. In fact it wasn't until the final game of the season, when Carlos Correa hit a HR off Acevedo in the 8th inning, when he even gave up an ER. That score brought the Astros back and they won it on a walk off- potentially Correa's last regular season moment in Houston.

Among AAA West pitchers with at least 30 IP, which albeit is not a large sample size, Acevedo finished:

1st in K-BB% (37.3%),

1st in K% (42.1%),

3rd in xFIP (3.52),

t-5th in Saves (9),

t-8th in Opposing BA (.185).

And all this in the most hitter friendly league on the planet. I believe this has already vaulted Acevedo into the incredible tier, and I like forward to seeing him pitch in 2022! I hope you enjoyed this piece and go Aviators.