The A’s bullpen is well-regarded as one of the best in baseball. However when specific relievers come to mind, Fernando Abad is probably not the first name mentioned, even though he may be the most effective reliever on this year’s team.
Abad has inherited 21 baserunners this year, and has stranded all of them. No other pitcher this year has stranded that many inherited runners while not allowing any to score. That stat combined with his elite 1.76 ERA and 0.80 WHIP basically says that if he’s pitching, you’re probably not going to score.
Abad was acquired from the Washington Nationals over the offseason to replace longtime A’s lefty Jerry Blevins. The A’s did not expect him to be nearly this good, but production like this is obviously welcomed with open arms. In addition to his remarkable strand rate, Abad started the season on a ridiculous streak of 14 consecutive games without allowing a run.
However, Abad is a part of the excellent A’s bullpen, so even though he could probably be the closer for many teams, especially the Tigers, he is delegated to a middle relief role. Bob Melvin uses him and Dan Otero in similar roles—they are always on call and need to be ready to come into the game at any time.
Even though Abad is left-handed, he has performed better against right-handed batters than left-handed ones. Righties have just a .444 OPS against him, while lefties have a better, but still pretty awful .543 OPS. These splits allow Melvin to use Abad against both lefties and righties without worrying about a major mismatch.
While Abad has been elite this year, there are a few signs that this success may not last forever. His Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) rating of 3.41 this year indicates that his future ERA may be closer to that than his current one. Also, that FIP lines up with his career 4.18 mark and 3.80 ERA much more than it does with his present numbers, showing another sign of potential future regression.
In addition, his K/9 ratio has increased, but only slightly, from 7.6 last year to 8.2 this year, and walk ratio has stayed about the same at 2.3 BB/9. Therefore, I wouldn’t be surprised if he starts to regress to last year’s good but not great form. His 3.35 ERA and 1.38 WHIP are pretty good for a middle reliever, but that is nowhere near the production that the A’s have gotten from him this year. However that also means that if he does regress, he’ll probably just be an average middle reliever, which is still valuable for a team with a deep bullpen.
For now, the A’s can hope he keeps this up for as long as possible. If he maintains this performance level, the A’s bullpen may be unstoppable over the stretch run and into the postseason.