Grant Balfour has been the closer for the Oakland Athletics for two years now and the 35-year-old right-hander has done an excellent job. Last season, Balfour compiled 24 saves while posting a 2.53 ERA and outstanding 0.92 WHIP, allowing a paltry 4.9 H/9. This season, Balfour looked like he was carrying that success over and has 38 saves while posting a 2.72 ERA and 1.19 WHIP. However, Balfour has struggled as of late and at 35, one has to wonder if he will have enough gas for the postseason.
On August 26th, Balfour notched his 33rd save against the Detroit Tigers and was sporting a 1.76 ERA. He looked like a lockdown closer, exactly what the A’s would need in the postseason. There have been a few bumps in the road as of late, however. Against the Tigers on August 29th Balfour blew just his second save of the season, allowing four runs in 2/3 of an inning and his ERA ballooned to 2.44.
Since the calendar turned from August to September, Balfour has surrendered three runs on seven hits and watched as his ERA has headed in the wrong direction. In August, he had a 5.06 ERA and so far in September he has pitched to a 4.50 ERA.
Balfour’s fastball velocity has lost some zip over the course of the season. He was getting his fastball up as high as 96 at times earlier this year and now sits in the 92-93 MPH range. At 35-years-old, this could just be his right arm running out of gas over the course of the year. What is possibly even more troubling is Balfour has only pitched 59.2 innings this season after a career-high 74.2 innings last year. The evidence is there for fatigue playing a role in Balfour’s recent struggles.
If it is simple fatigue the A’s can give Balfour a little rest down the stretch since it doesn’t look like the Texas Rangers, who trail by 6.5 games in the AL West, will catch the A’s. The A’s would be wise to give Balfour a little extra rest as they gear up for the postseason even though that is no guarantee to cure the problem.
The Athletics need Balfour closing games for them. He is, without a doubt, their best option at closer and they need him to be as fresh and ready as possible. Without an effective Balfour, the A’s chances of running deep into the playoffs fall by the wayside.