The A’s are in a position to grab one of the two American League Wild Card spots largely thanks to the success of their bullpen. For the season, the group has ranked fourth among all relief corps in fWAR, seventh in ERA, and fifth in FIP. Their bullpen has remained steady into the final month of the regular season, posting a 3.36 ERA for the month of September while only trailing three other teams in strikeout rate.
Though the numbers will say otherwise, the 2019 season has not been what you would call smooth ride for the A’s bullpen in particular. Two of their best relievers from last year, Blake Treinen and Lou Trivino (now both out for the season), took major steps backward this season, putting more reliance on the arms of Liam Hendriks, Joakim Soria, and Yusmeiro Petit. They’ve handled more than well though, while that trio should receive most of the credit for the success of their team’s bullpen.
Added help has also arrived in the second half. The team went out and acquired Jake Diekman, a serviceable left-hander. More recently, and what I want to focus on, they called up two of their best pitching prospects— A.J. Puk and Jesus Luzardo— to help contribute in the final month of their postseason push. Those two pitchers have been fantastic in their limited experience. In a combined 18 1⁄3 innings, they’ve put up a 2.95 ERA and 3.60 FIP, with an even more impressive .230 xwOBA.
While the sample size is small, it may be best for now to reference projections for the near future when it comes to Puk and Luzardo. After dominating in his first two minor league seasons and coming back from Tommy John Surgery, Puk worked as a reliever across three levels, putting up very good strikeout rates at each stop. Luzardo, another prospect who dominated his climbed up the minor league and ladder and also missed a big chunk of the 2019 season, made seven starts at the Triple-A level this season, owning a 3.19 ERA and 3.64 FIP in 31 innings.
With their past performances factored in, here’s what the projections (Steamer) saw for them as big league relievers in 2019.
A.J. Puk and Jesus Luzardo RoS Projections
For the A’s, the only reliever with a higher projected strikeout rate for the rest of the season is Liam Hendriks. For Luzardo, it’s Hendriks, Puk, and Jake Diekman. That’s also the same case for ERA and FIP.
Now, will both of Jesus Luzardo and A.J. Puk be in the plans for a potential postseason roster? That isn’t set in stone yet, but with a below-average starting staff and the recent injuries to Blake Treinen and Lou Trivino, it seems likely that the A’s would want to stack their bullpen as much as they could for the playoffs, especially in the case of a single-elimination game. With both pitchers capable of providing one to two solid inning(s) of relief each, it’s pretty easy to see the value they could possess in that situation.
Patrick Brennan loves to research pitchers and minor leaguers with data. You can find additional work of his at Royals Review and Royals Farm Report. You can also find him on Twitter @paintingcorner.