Bob Melvin was named American League Manager of the Year after leading the overachieving Oakland A’s to a playoff berth. It was an honor well-deserved. The 51-year-old former big-league catcher knows how to nurture young talent, and the squad he skippered was laden with first- and second-year players. Melvin discussed five rookie members of his pitching staff during last week’s winter meetings.
David Laurila: Tommy Milone, Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin all had relatively low strikeout rates. What does that mean for their success?
Bob Melvin: It means they can get deeper in games, and with younger guys, you really want them to cut down on their pitch counts.
As far as Tommy Milone, he’s more touch-and-feel, put the ball in play and keep it in the big part of the ballpark. He’ll use his changeup. He’s not really a strikeout guy, even though he has the ability to strike guys out.
A.J. Griffin has four pitches and he’s very unpredictable about when and where he is throwing them.
I think you’ll see Jarrod Parker potentially strike more guys out. His changeup is a strikeout pitch. He’s getting much better about the command of his fastball and where he wants to throw it. His velocity was 89-92 at times last year. Other times it was 92-95 and when it was 92-95 he was striking guys out.
DL: Are strikeouts and ground-ball rates less important in your home ballpark?
BM: When you look at, for instance, Milone’s numbers and his home ERA compared to his road ERA… he keeps the ball in the big part of the ballpark. He gives up some fly balls and yeah, that probably plays better in our ballpark than most.
It’s part of our scheme, part of our game plan going in. With a night game in our place, you can pitch away a little more and keep it in the big part of the ballpark.
DL: Of the three, Parker has the highest ground-ball rate. Is that basically him pitching to his strengths?
BM: He’s getting better and better about keeping the ball down, more than anything. I don’t know what his numbers — his ground-ball and fly-ball rates — were in the past, but he’s that good. He has the ability to strike people out, and keep it in the air, as well as on the ground.
Our [game plans] are player specific, but at the end of the day you want conviction in the pitch you‘re throwing. I would rather our guys rely on their strengths as opposed to throwing their third-best pitch, just because it’s a hitter’s weakness.
DL: Ryan Cook had a high strikeout rate coming out of the bullpen.
BM: He was our closer at times, although he set up for probably the majority of the season. Grant Balfour did a heck of a job for us a couple of different times. Cook certainly has the ability to close. A lot of times, though, a guy with his stuff and his strikeout ability is someone you’d rather bring in with a couple guys on base in the seventh or the eighth. He has the ability to do anything he wants as far as the bullpen goes.
DL: Are you a believer in using your best reliever in high-leverage situations prior to the ninth inning?
BM: At times, but do you know what? There are just too many variables to say there is one way or the other to do it. A lot of it is based on the personnel, how you’re getting there, and their experience pitching at the end. Maybe one of your younger guys isn’t ready for that role. Earlier last year, we didn’t think Cook was. Later on in the year, he was.
I think you find out pretty quickly about somebody’s makeup when you put them in to close a game, in the ninth inning, with a one-run lead. Cook has the ability to do that, and he did.
DL: Who else on the staff deserves a shout out?
BM: Sean Doolittle. I don’t know there was a better story among bullpen guys, in all of baseball, last year. The guy was a position player. We moved him to pitching and watched him throw bullpens in spring training, and a little later in the season he was closing against the New York Yankees. If anybody made significant strides — maybe the biggest strides based on his experience level — it was Sean Doolittle.
DL: Whose decision was it to make him a pitcher?
BM: To be honest, I’m not sure who actually made the decision to put him in the bullpen. Whoever it was deserves a raise.
The season we had was based on a lot of good baseball people making good decisions. That starts will Billy [Beane] and David [Forst] in the front office, Billy Owens and Grady Fuson in scouting and player development. And Keith Lieppman. We had contributions from everybody in our organization. When you see as many young guys make it to the big-league level as we had, and be successful, that means they’re being developed right. Our organization gives younger players an opportunity to not only play at the big-league level, but to play prominent roles as well.