In January of 2011. Billy Beane made two surprising moves fortifying the A’s bullpen with the additions of veteran relievers Grant Balfour and Brian Fuentes. In a season where the A’s were suppose to challenge for a playoff spot they sputtered out the gate and completely flopped. Balfour however was a success, he proved to be a solid right handed power arm out of the bullpen and everything from his guts and guile to his results on the mound were a hit with A’s fans. As the “Mad Aussie” was busy inspiring his own mosh dance from the fans in the bleachers, Fuentes was drawing the ire of A’s fans everywhere by having a miserable first half. Blowing a multiple of saves early in the season as the fill in closer, and openly complaining to the media about ex manager Bob Geren’s usage of him and lack of communication regarding his role in the bullpen. Everything from Fuentes’s struggles on the mound to his walkup song of “No Love” by Eminem and Lil Wayne signified his troubled year in Oakland in 2011. Is there hope for Fuentes in 2012? Based on his previous track record, and a clear and present role in Bob Melvin’s restructured bullpen, I vote for giving him one more chance. Provided of course his actions speak louder than words.
As a four time All Star, with nearly 200 career saves, Fuentes has enjoyed a strong and successful career through 11 seasons in the bigs. While the argument can be made that his best years are behind him at age 36, let it be noted that as recent as 2009 he led the American League with an eye popping 48 saves as a member of the Angels. Perhaps miscast as a closer during his tenure in Colorado due to his mediocre fastball (87-92 MPH), and occasional inability to throw his breaking pitches for strikes as we so frustratingly watched in Oakland last season. Fuentes, has nevertheless found a way to get the job done and save the game a majority of the time.
When he’s been on, Fuentes has carved a lucrative career for himself in the closers role by simply getting batters out on a consistent basis. By effectively pinpointing his fastball, and getting hitters to chase his slider when he’s ahead in the count, he has limited right handed batters to .226 lifetime batting average of off him and left handed hitters to a .218 average.
While A’s fans may cringe at the very sound of his name, Fuentes was actually an effective pitcher in the second half of last season. Looking at the splits, he was a ghastly 1-8 with 4.82 ERA despite racking up 12 saves during the first half. Under Bob Melvin’s rule in the second half, Fuentes found the consistency that so eluded him during the season early months. Over 26 games, Fuentes notched a 1.71 ERA and dropped his WHIP from 1.42 to 0.90. With a defined role as the left handed setup man, Fuentes seemed to settle into his role nicely and salvage his season. While it’s unfathomable to expect him to ever be a lights out reliever, he has shown that he is more than capable of being a valuable, useful pitcher on a winning team.
The idea is with proper consistent utilization of his skills, the A’s will be able to avoid the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde act of his 2011 season. After failing to win the closers job, Fuentes must settle into a late inning role to provide the necessary bridge to Balfour for the A’s to have a successful ‘pen in 2012. With a consistent role, I truly believe he can find success this season. Maybe he’ll even change his entrance song and inspire his own dance.