Due to the “Money Ball” phenomenon, many associate a certain stigma with the Oakland Athletics. Though not the most conventionally talented bunch, the team creates a situation where each player’s contributions add the maximum amount of value. As they employ many right-handed/left-handed platoons and emphasize getting on base – as base runners are the impetus behind runs – they are one of only seven teams in baseball to have scored over 300 runs through June 11. Their ability to add the correct pieces continues to the bullpen. With a 3.74 team ERA, the Athletics are also in the top-10 in baseball in run prevention. While much of this success can be attributed to strong starting pitching, elite bullpen performance has helped as well. There is piece more crucial to their bullpen success than Grant Balfour.
Allowing just four runs in 26.2 innings thus far, Balfour has a measly 1.35 ERA. Though fly balls closers are not necessarily the norm, pitching in Oakland’s spacious home ballpark is the perfect fit for Balfour’s skill set. The Athletics are utilizing a commodity, in Balfour, that has more value to their team in their ballpark than would to any other team.
Having allowed three home runs in just under 27 innings, Balfour has gotten slightly unlucky thus far. As a fly ball pitcher, Balfour will always be subject to the variance of fly balls leaving the ballpark, but generally he should enjoy even better success in that regard.
While some have projected Joe Nathan or Glen Perkins to be an AL All Star relief pitcher alongside Mariano Rivera, Balfour should be the second selection for an All Star honor. The Athletics are a generally underrated team filled with few players who are stars in their own right, but the All Star game is the perfect context to show an important cog to their success.
Gabe Isaacson is a writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter: @gabeisaacson.