With Andrew Bailey in Boston, the A’s are hoping Grant Balfour can help them close out games this season. Bob Melvin chose Balfour, 34, over Brian Fuentes this spring to be the team’s closer. The A’s new skipper chose Balfour largely based on his 2011 stats. Last year, Balfour went 5-2 with a 2.47 ERA over 62.0 innings of work.
He recorded two saves last year, but only has 10 saves in his career. Fuentes, meanwhile, has 199 career saves. The decision to go with Balfour over Fuentes may seem a little questionable, but Melvin’s decision, in my mind anyway, is well supported. The A’s did not see a ton of success from Fuentes, as the veteran reliever went 2-8 with a 3.70 ERA over 58.1 innings of work last year. Opposing hitters also posted a .237 batting average against Fuentes last year.
Balfour, meanwhile, held opponents to a .199 batting average. Will the A’s, though, get more out of Balfour this year than they would if Fuentes were to be the one closing games out in the ninth inning? Our Crystal Ball says yes. Balfour proved to be a rather effective pitcher in Oakland’s bullpen last year and has already recorded his first save of 2012. He got his first save of the new season during the two-game series in Japan against the Seattle Mariners.
One of the few areas of concern for Balfour, however, lies in Balfour’s left-on-base-percentage (LOB%). This statistic, for those of you casual fans out there who don’t already know, represents the percentage of base runners a pitchers leaves stranded on the bases during the course of the year. Last year Balfour stranded 89% of his base runners. Yes, 89%.
The year before that in 2010, Balfour, while with the Rays, posted a 78.9 LOB% and a 65.4 LOB% the year before that in 2009. Balfour still managed to post a pretty nifty 2.47 ERA in his first stint with the Athletics, but 89% is a pretty high number for Balfour. In addition, Balfour posted a .232 BABIP and a 3.57 FIP last year with the A’s.
In comparison, the A’s saw Fuentes post a 68.1 LOB%, a .258 BABIP, and a 4.16 FIP in 62 games last year. Fuentes may have the veteran “know-how” and the closing experience, but as of right now the A’s are interested in having Balfour closing out games. The A’s also have a few candidates to help fill in for Balfour should he fail which includes guys like Joey Devine and Fautino De Los Santos. So, Fuentes may just have get used to being used as a middle-reliever for the A’s this year.
30 saves, then, for Balfour isn’t entirely out of the question. While I don’t expect him to strand another 89%-90% of his base runners again this year, I do expect Balfour to rake up the save opportunities this year as Oakland’s primary closer.