Everyone has a type; some prefer dark-haired women and breakfast foods, some like sweet but not salty, and so on and so forth. Jerry Dipoto has a type when it comes to relievers, or at least he did last offseason: an above-average strikeout rate and a low walk rate that can come at the expense of an extra homer or two. Evan Scribner, Blake Parker, Joel Peralta, and (in theory) Jonathan Aro were all brought in last year in an attempt to shape the ‘pen in Jerry’s image, and Steve Cishek and Joaquin Benoit came along as well. A relatively low-cost offseason to try to rebuild a bullpen.
The A’s bullpen wasn’t markedly better than the M’s last year, thanks mostly to the performance of one Edwin Díaz, but it was still better. While the club still has one of the lower payrolls in baseball, it hasn’t been afraid to make smart investments in the bullpen over the past year or so. Billy Beane went out and acquired Ryan Madson, Liam Hendricks, and John Axford to help make up for Sean Doolittle’s injury woes. While the total cost wasn’t enormous — about $12 million for 2016 and Jesse Chavez — that did account for about an eighth of their opening day payroll at a position where teams are often looking to save money.
For being the two free agent acquisitions, Madson and Axford didn’t do much to contribute to the A’s ‘pen. Both were perfectly competent members of a big league bullpen, but nothing more. Hendricks was the star, posting a strong strikeout rate, low walk rate, and allowing less than one homer every nine innings. The team also had some great performances from youngsters Ryan Dull and Daniel Coulombe, and Doolittle pitched well upon his return.
The A’s brought in three new righty arms and put the rest of the burden primarily on youngsters already in the system. Oakland went from one of the league’s three worst bullpens to an above-average one.
It’s no coincidence that Jerry has brought Scribner, Ryan Cook, and Marc Rzepczynski to the Mariners over the last year or so. Not only does he want to build a bullpen like the A’s did in 2016, but he has the same taste in players as the team sitting on the dock on the bay, watching the tide roll away. Had Tony Zych and Evan Scribner stayed healthy, it’s possible he would have done just as well as Beane did in reshaping his bullpen overnight.