Oakland A’s: What is Eric O’Flaherty’s potential as a closer?

The Oakland A’s bullpen was shaken up once again earlier this week when closer Sean Doolittle was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a strained right intercostal muscle. Even though Doolittle said he already felt better after the game on Sunday, the A’s are being cautious and sitting him out for awhile since even a mild strain of this muscle could take some time to recover from. The Oakland A’s MLB beat reporter Jane Lee reported that he could even be out for three weeks, but there is ultimately no set timeline for this type of injury.

Eric O'Flaherty (2008)

Eric O’Flaherty (2008)

In the meantime, the Oakland A’s have yet to appoint an interim closer and manager Bob Melvin told the press that Dan Otero, Ryan Cook, and Eric O’Flaherty will be in a closer by committee rotation. However, Melvin also stated he would like to keep all the relievers in their assumed roles as much as possible. This would mean the Luke Gregerson would still be the 8th inning setup man, Cook would pitch in the 7th inning, and Otero and Fernando Abad would pitch as the righty and lefty specialists when needed.

Even though Otero and Cook have already recorded saves this season, all signs are pointing to O’Flaherty to be the main interim closer for the Oakland A’s – especially if Melvin wants to keep the bullpen relievers in their regular roles. San Francisco Chronicle writer Susan Slusser even reported that the Athletics saw O’Flaherty as “the closer-type” when they acquired him during the offseason. So what is O’Flaherty’s potential as a closer?

When the Oakland A’s acquired O’Flaherty, he was still rehabbing from the Tommy John surgery he received during the 2013 season. Since going through rehab, O’Flaherty pitched his first inning of relief back on July 4th, 2014 and he has been solid ever since. So far this lefty has yet to allow a run during the month of August and has struck out 12 in the 14.1 innings pitched. He currently has a 1.26 ERA with a 0.91 WHIP.

However, throughout the eight years he has been pitching in the MLB, he has saved zero games and has blown 12 saves. Maybe the pressure of the closer position is too much for him. But, this is only a small sample size since O’Flaherty has not had much of an opportunity to demonstrate his closing ability in the Majors. He has been a solid reliever for the past few years when he has not been injured and during his Minor League career, he did complete 26 saves out of 32 opportunities.

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Many are wondering if O’Flaherty is physically ready for the closer position. Only last week it was reported that he was finally ready and strong enough to relieve in back-to-back games. Additionally, since the closer is put in many high stress situations, the Oakland A’s would not want O’Flaherty to try and compensate for the pressure by throwing harder, which could re-injure his arm. The Athletics were very careful when it came to rehabbing O’Flaherty, so hopefully he is physically and mentally ready for the closer position if he gets appointed as the sole interim closer.

If O’Flaherty does get appointed, it is still nice to know that there is a bullpen full of capable relievers that could fill in given a moments notice. It is also good that the Oakland A’s will be able to test run O’Flaherty as the closer with a month still left in the season. If Doolittle is not able to close come the postseason – assuming the Oakland A’s make the postseason – the Athletics are going to want to be completely confident in the interim closer they put on the mound.

For more news, rumors, and opinions on the Athletics, visit the isportsweb Oakland A’s homepage.

  • every10minutes

    blown saves can occur in the 7th or 8th even if there is not what we think of as a typical save chance. most setup men accrue some, so this is probably not an indication that he can’t handle pressure.