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The Oakland Pen is Mightier...

I figured I'd write something A's-related to start it out here because of the success of Athletics Nation on this network, and because I wanted to take a look at how good these guys have been.

The A's are hovering around .500, which is exactly where they want to be right about now. The non-Beane converts gave the A's no chance, while the sabr-folk love Oakland for the division this year.

In either case, .500 is a lofty achievement from a team with little or no expectations from the mainstream media, and a lot of question marks no matter who you ask.

Yet somehow, the A's aren't doing it the way they do in the past. Some would attribute this success to early season luck, and, in winning close games, a lot of it is.

To start, lets look at Oakland's typical difference in opponents' runs scored (the 2005 totals are just extended to 162 games).

  1. +134
  2. +239
  3. +146
  4. +125
  5. +51
  6. -71
Runs scored?
  1. 947
  2. 884
  3. 800
  4. 768
  5. 793
  6. 596
These are striking (bad) figures... and yet the A's are still resting at 1 game over .500, 1 back of the Angels. (The 2003 Tigers scored 591 runs, to put it in perspective.)

The current American League run-scoring environment is about 4.70 R/G, and the A's are a full run lower than that at 3.68. This is another statistical anomaly...and they incredibly remain in the race.

Now, I seriously doubt that the A's are going to score less than 600 runs this year. I like the Oakland offense; there are no easy outs. Durazo and Chavez have had slow starts, and, while I'm not sold on Durazo, I suspect that Chavez will go on a tear at some point. But I do think that the Oakland success is attributable to more than just luck. The A's have gotten outstanding work from their bullpen.

65 G, 8-2, 72 IP, 64 H, 20 ER, 5 HR, 28 BB, 70 K, 8.8 K/9, 3.5 BB/9, 1.28 WHIP, 2.50 ERA

If you got those numbers from one reliever on a full season, you'd be fairly happy. The A's are getting this as the standard.

There are a lot of different ways to go about this one, but I'll go game by game, using a bit more of a qualitative approach to 'pen efficiency.


  • Game 1: Loss, 2 scoreless innings from bullpen.
  • Game 2: Win, blowout, 3 scoreless innings from pen.
  • Game 3: Win, 3 scoreless innings from pen, Ricardo Rincon gets win with perfect 7th inning.
  • Game 4: Loss, Juan Cruz blows game.
  • Game 5: Blowout loss, 4 2/3 scoreless from 'pen after bullpen gives up all 3 inherited runners, relatively inconsequential.
  • Game 6: Win. 3 2/3 scoreless from pen with 3 run lead, inherited runner scores.
  • Game 7: Loss. Blowout, Juan Cruz ineffective again. Street and Yabu pitch 3 hitless innings.
  • Game 8: Loss. Duchscherer gives up 1 run in 2 innings, giving the 'Jays a 3rd insurance run.
  • Game 9: Win. Pen gives up 2 runs, but Calero's scoreless 8th inning earns the win. Runs were inconsequential in 6-3 win.
  • Game 10: Loss and Zito pitched well, but left down 2-1. Juan Cruz put it out of reach.
  • Game 11: Win. Calero goes 2 scoreless in a 1-0 win in 10 innings as the A's don't squander a nice outing from Harden.
  • Game 12: Win. Rincon blows the lead, but Street and Dotel pitch well to close it out.
  • Game 13: Win. Juan Cruz gives up 3 more runs in the 9th. Dotel slams the door with a K.
  • Game 14: Loss. Pedro Astacio blanks 'em for 8. Blanton is solid but leaves down by 1. Yabu gives Cordero an extra insurance run in the 8th.
  • Game 15: Loss. For a little variety, Street opts to play the role of Juan Cruz and gives up 3 in the loss.
  • Game 16: Win. Harden gives 'em 7 strong, and Rincon, Duchscherer, and Dotel put it in the books.
  • Game 17: Win. Rincon, Yabu, and Dotel go 3.7 scoreless, and Rincon strands one in the 6th when he comes in.
  • Game 18: Loss. Haren gets smacked around and the Angel pen shuts 'em down. Duchscherer gives up an unearned run, but the pen is solid otherwise. Juan Cruz finds himself, striking out 2 in a perfect 8th inning.
  • Game 19: Loss. Blanton goes the distance and gets the loss. (This was the Sunday night game.)
  • Game 20: Loss. No offense against Jon Garland. Juan Cruz gives up 2 that were unearned.
  • Game 21: Win! Rincon gives up a run in relief for Harden in his worst outing to date. Yabu, the Duke*, and Dotel go 3 2/3 of scoreless ball and hang on for the comeback win.
  • Game 22: Win. In perhaps the prototype for this team, the bullpen keeps it tied for 3.2 innings, and the offense gets a run in the bottom of the 9th for the win. Street, Rincon, and the Duke involved here.
  • Game 23: Loss. Haren pitches well in defeat, and Rincon gives up some insurance. Street and Calero pitch well in their 1 1/3 innings.
  • Game 24: Win! Blanton gets hit hard, but Duke, Street, Rincon, Calero, and Dotel don't give up anything through 8, and Dotel works some magic to get through the 8th. Dotel then blows it in the 9th but recovers. Yabu goes a scoreless tenth, and the A's win it in the 10th on a Kotsay single.
  • Game 25: Win. Duke and Dotel hold a 1 run lead for 2 innings.

The A's pen has been instrumental in keeping them in games this year, and if you take Juan Cruz out of the equation, the stats are even better:

59 G, 65 IP, 51 H, 11 ER, 3 HR, 22 BB, 65 K, 1.52 ERA.

So, essentially, in the early going, the A's have had 5 relievers pitching like bona fida relief aces.

What interests me most about this is that EVERYONE else is having bullpen trouble. Beane stocked up on relievers in the offseason, adding Yabu, Calero, and Cruz, and the A's have an absolute strength. Imagine how many teams will be calling the A's trying to get a reliever for the stretch run come July. The A's can afford to spare one... they definitely should be able to get that offensive part they need to boost them to the division win. How about Dubois from the Cubs? (Just speculation. I have no idea.)

The rest of the league's bullpen pitchers: 4.14 ERA, 6.93 K/9, 4.06 BB/9.

Back to those mini-wraps on games: it's really just another way of looking at record, just without that whole "relievers can get wins if they screw up" part. The bullpen record of 8-2 is about what the pen has been worth to the team (no, the pen has not added 8 wins, but it has been extraordinarily valuable. I don't have the P figures, but I'm sure they'd match up well). A worse bullpen (replace it with that of, say, the Cubs), and they lose a lot more of these games... and that's the difference between .500 and 6 under, at this point.

The bullpen won't carry the A's to the playoffs, but when the bats start coming around, they'll be fortunate to be so close to first place; the 'pen has carried this team.

Back to the math:

A's bullpen - 72 IP, 64 H, 26 R, 20 ER, 5 HR, 28 BB, 70 K, 8.8 K/9, 3.5 BB/9, 1.28 WHIP, 2.50 ERA
Rest of league - 72 IP, 70 H, 36 R, 33 ER, 7 HR, 33 BB, 55 K, 6.9 K/9, 4.1 BB/9, 1.43 WHIP, 4.15 ERA

That's the league's relief averages, projected to 72 IP. You can see the certain differences. Many more balls in play on fewer Ks. More walks. And 10 more runs.

10 more runs out of the bullpen. Pythagoras tells us that those 10 runs out of the bullpen are worth a win and a half, or so. But by eyeballing those games, we see that they've played in 9 one run games. They're 6-3 in those. With another bullpen, that number could be inverted. Aggregate stats only go so far when you break it down to a game-by-game basis...just with a quick glance, we can see that there were a LOT of bullpen-vulnerable games.

As luck may have it, the Rest of the League bullpen average projects to 4.5 R/G. Keith Woolner's "Analytical Framework for Win Expectancy" from Baseball Prospectus 2005 comes into play right now:

0 runs in an inning - 72.438%
1 run in an inning - 15.194%
2 runs in an inning - 6.818%
3 runs in an inning - 3.060%
4 runs in an inning - 1.373%
5 runs in an inning - .616%

That's the league's distribution (minus Oakland). Using the formulas provided (which came from TangoTiger), I derived these as the distribution based on the A's bullpen:

0 runs in an inning - 78.443%
1 run in an inning - 12.868%
2 runs in an inning - 5.924%
3 runs in an inning - 2.388%
4 runs in an inning - .962%
5 runs in an inning - .388%

At the rate that the A's pen has given up runs (3.25 R/9) v. the league's averages (4.5 R/G), you can see the differences in run expectancy.

Now imagine that over a full season, just extrapolating everything forward.

The A's pen will get around 456 innings of work at this rate. Comparing what that means to the frequency of inning-types, the A's pen throws 28 more scoreless innings than the league average pen. (That's from this probabilistic model, so it's just an estimate.) Adding 28 innings with just one more run, you could be looking at a LOT more games that are tied instead of Oakland leads. Or blown games that could be tied.

I can't imagine the A's pen keeping up its spectacular numbers for the whole season, but I expect it to be close to these. And at this level, a great bullpen DOES make a pretty big difference.

To take it back to Pythagoras, if EVERYTHING keeps up, this good bullpen will save the A's 65 runs, which equates to 7 wins. Just on the run difference. And that does not account for everything.

So, what's the point of all of this?

  1. The Oakland bullpen is a major reason why the A's are having success right now.
  2. Beane's done it again, it seems, just in another way.
  3. When the lineup starts hitting, this is going to be a tough team to beat.
And I'm also personally happy to see the early success from Dotel, who has been lights out in the early going, partially because I predicted it, but partially because I was a big Dotel fan in his brief tenure with the Mets.

* - I've taken to calling Duchscherer "The Duke." I don't know if this fits or not. But I like baseball nicknames.