A's pitching pulls out a tough one

By Jason Wojciechowski on August 13, 2003 at 3:29 PM

The A's scored five runs off of John Burkett in the first inning, then Barry Zito, Chad Bradford, and Keith Foulke just managed to hold on to that lead for the rest of the game, as the A's couldn't score again against Burkett, Scott Sauerbeck, or Alan Embree.

With the win, the A's are one up in the wild card chase, but Seattle won their game, so they're stll three back in the West. The Yankees won as well, so Boston fell four back in the East.

There's not much to say about the offense: Eric Chavez hit a bomb, Terrence Long hit another homer, the A's didn't walk once, and they only got two hits after the first inning. It'd be the same sad offensive story if they hadn't knocked two balls over the fence their first time through.

The pitching is once again the real story. Barry Zito struggled as he threw 101 pitches in just 5 1/3 and ended up with a mediocre line, but got the win anyway.
If it's not apparent yet how meaningless wins and losses are, check out yesterday's run down of his losses and no-decisions along with today's win for Zito. The bullpen gets major credit, though. Or rather, one third of the bullpen. The same one third that's been saving this team's butt all year.
Bradford and Foulke.

Bradford finished Zito's sixth and threw the seventh, giving up two hits, but also getting two strikeouts and allowing no runs. Keith Foulke then threw two perfect innings for the save. That kind of performance from a closer is what should earn a save. Two innings, no baserunners, two run lead against a historically good offensive juggernaut. Foulke earned this one.

Bradford's overall numbers don't look all that impressive, but my impression is that he's been very good with a few very bad outings, sort of like a poor man's 2002 John Smoltz. Looking at the game log, though, I appear to be wrong. He does't have any really bad outing that jumps out, just a bunch of zeros mixed in with some ones and twos (in the runs allowed column). When did those runs allowed come?

  • Two runs, one inning (9th), 8-1 lead turned into 8-3 victory, 4/2.
  • One run, 1 2/3 innings (7th, 8th), gave up go ahead run in 5-4 loss, 4/10.
  • One run, one inning (6th, 7th), gave up go ahead run in 2-1 loss, 4/20.
  • Two runs, 1 1/3 innings (6th, 7th), turned 3-2 deficit into 5-2 in 5-3 loss, 5/2.
  • One run, one inning (7th), turned 4-0 deficit into 5-0 in 5-2 loss, 5/10.
  • One run, 1 2/3 (8th, 9th), turned 3-2 lead into 4-3 deficit (final score), 5/21.
  • One run, 1 1/3 (7th, 8th), turned 9-6 deficit into 10-6 in 11-6 loss, 5/30.
  • One run, two innings (7th, 8th), turned 4-2 lead into 4-3 (final score), 6/17.
  • Two runs, one inning (7th), turned tie game into 3-1 deficit in 4-3 win, 6/18.
  • One run, 2 1/3 innings (6th, 7th, 8th), turned 5-2 into 5-3 (final score), 6/20.
  • Three runs, no outs (8th), turned 4-2 deficit into 7-2 in 7-6 loss, 6/24.
  • Two runs, 2/3 inning (6th), turned 6-3 lead into 6-5 in 9-8 loss, 6/25.
  • Two runs, one inning (8th), turned 5-1 lead into 5-3 in 6-5 win, 7/6.
  • One run, one inning (8th), turned 3-2 deficit into 4-2 (final score), 7/30.
  • One run, one inning (8th), turned 3-0 lead into 3-1 (final score), 7/31.

Bradford doesn't pitch in a lot of situations where he can give up meaningless runs. Only in that first game were the runs truly meaningless. There are a few other cases where the run turned out to be meaningless, but that's not what matters, because at the time he was giving them up, they sure meant something. Like this last game on the list, for example. Giving up a run with a three run lead isn't the end of the world, but then you've suddenly only got a two run lead, and things are that much more difficult for your closer the next inning.

This kind of analysis could be done with just about any relief pitcher, but the guys who are used in the same way Bradford is are probably all going to yield the same result: they don't give up meaningless runs because they don't pitch in situations where runs are meaningless. Thus, we can't really discount any of the runs Bradford's given up. In fact, because he's in high leverage situations, those runs mean more, in some sense.

Of course, what's not in that chart are all the times he threw an inning or two and gave up nothing, like last night, and those zeros have to count more heavily just like the ones and twos do.

As much as I love ARP at Baseball Prospectus, it only measures runs saved, not how important those runs are. Of course, to create a formula that gave credit for the importance of runs being allowed and not allowed would add a whole couple layers of complexity. Maybe it's been done and I'm not aware of it.

Foulke, by the way, ranks 15th in the majors in ARP, and Bradford is just a hair (about .1 runs) out of the top 30. The A's bullpen as a whole is behind only the superhuman bullpens in Anaheim, Los Angeles, and Houston and the much more human bullpen in Arizona.