A's Rookie Leads Majors Best BullpenCo-closer Joey Devine is out for year needing Tommy John surgery. The teams other Co-closer has been battling the flu for the past week and a half and their main set-up man has found himself on the 15 day disabled list. Yet despite the setbacks the Oakland A's have faced in regards to their bullpen, it has been the best in the majors.
A good bullpen is invaluable, especially for a team such as Oakland, which features three rookie pitchers in its starting rotation. The A's bullpen averages four innings per game, most in the majors, but features a league leading 2.73 bullpen era, 1.15 WHIP and batters are hitting just .207 off of Oakland relievers. All three of those statistics are best in the league.
The anchor of this bullpen so far has been rookie Andrew Bailey.
Bailey has overcome a lot to get to where he is today with the A's. After a promising sophomore year at Wagner, in which Bailey recorded 84 strikeouts in 76 innings pitched, he started to gain recognition as a top tier prospect by major league scouts. However, everything took a turn for the worse during Bailey's junior season as he suffered an elbow injury and was required to get Tommy John Surgery. The injury made it so Bailey only appeared in seven games during the season and his stock dropped in the 2005 draft. He was selected by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 16th round, but chose to continue his career at Wagner instead of going pro. He couldn't have made a better decision.
After spending 10 months of rehab, Bailey posted his best year yet at the college ranks posting a 2.03 era and striking out 53 batters in 41 innings pitched. Bailey finished college as Wagner's career strikeout leader and was selected by the Oakland A's in the 6th round of the 2006 draft. While Bailey spent his first two seasons in the A's minor league system as a starter, it wasn't until the middle of the 2008 season at AA Midland that that the A's started viewing Bailey as a reliever and developing him in that role.
Entering camp at the beginning of this season, Bailey wasn't guaranteed a roster spot on the A's. In fact, many thought Bailey didn't stand a chance at making the opening day roster considering Bailey hadn't pitched much above AA. However, with Brad Ziegler playing in the World Baseball Classic and Joey Devine battling injury, Bailey got his opportunity to pitch in many spring games and didn't disappoint. He featured a 0.66 era in 13.2 innings. The performance was too good for the A's to ignore and with Joey Devine starting the season on the disabled list, Bailey was named the last Oakland reliever on the 25-man roster.
Bailey's "stuff" is downright scary. He features a fastball that reaches up to 98 mph, a curveball, and a cutter that does its best impression of Mariano Rivera. So far this year, Bailey stands at 3-0, with a 1.27 era in 21 and a third innings pitched this season. He has 24 strikeouts, but even more remarkabale is that Bailey has only given up 6 hits all season.
"He continues to be impressive. He throws strikes and has multiple pitches," said A's manager Bob Geren when asked about Bailey. "I feel comfortable bringing him in any time, which is a big boost."
Bailey recorded his first career save last friday in a 5-3 win over the Blue Jays, doing it old fashioned style with two innings of shutout baseball. He wasn't originally planned to work the two innings, but Bailey was so effective in the 8th, the choice as to whether or not to send him out again for the 9th was a no brainer. Bailey faced the minimum number of batters, allowing no hits, striking out two, and only threw 20 pitches.
Not too bad. The closers role may be where Bailey's future lies. Brad Ziegler doesn't project as a long term closer and most expected him to lose the role to Joey Devine as the season progressed. If Bailey keeps performing like he has been, he may once again force Bob Geren's hand and require the A's to make the switch.
Regardless of where he ends up, he has helped shape the A's bullpen into the best in the majors. While the A's have gotten off to a slow start in 2009, they still show signs of improving and as their young stars continue to develop, this teams future looks bright.