Wednesday, March 23, 2011
30 A's in 30 Days: Grant Balfour
Acquired: Signed as free agent (January 18, 2011).
Contract: Two years through 2012 (includes club option for 2013).
Position: Late inning right-handed reliever; all-time Australian-born strikeout king.
2011 Projected ERA: 2.54
2010 Season: Despite six years and 99 days of MLB service time, Balfour has only made two Opening Day rosters -- first in 2009 and then again last year. He missed the entire month of August with a rib cage injury, but his final numbers were still just a few steps behind his breakout -- and low BABIP-driven -- 2008 campaign. Most of his 2010 statistics were a superlative small-sample size smorgasbord, including a .176/.230/.266 slash line vs. right-handed hitters (122 plate appearances), a .465 OPS with runners in scoring position (65 PAs) and a .181(!) OPS with runners in scoring position and two outs (28 PAs). The surefire personal highlight of his season? On September 15, he fanned the Yankees' Austin Kearns and passed former big-league journeyman Graeme Lloyd on the career strikeout list for Australian-born pitchers. Lloyd, though, can still lay claim to being half of MLB's first all-Australian battery (with catcher Dave Nilsson in 1994). For those who don't know, Nilsson was signed as an amateur free agent by the Brewers in 1987...at the height of America's brief pop-culture exchange program with Australia.
2011 Over/Under: Balfour's career has been the epitome of reliever volatility. Over his first four seasons (cumulative totals: 92.2 innings, 80 appearances) his ERA was 5.44. In 2008, it was 1.54 (58.1 innings, 51 appearances). In 2009, it rose to 4.81 (67.1 innings, 73 appearances) and last year it was 2.28 (55.1 innings, 57 appearances). Obviously, there aren't any solid conclusions from this data relating to how Balfour will perform this season. But, based on Balfour's bizarro Bret Saberhagen gimmick, I'll take the OVER.
By the Numbers: 7 – When you're sitting in your frigid field level seats this summer, fellow A's fans, impress your friends with this fun fact -- last year, Balfour didn't allow a run in the seventh inning until September 6th. He threw 19.2 scoreless seventh innings to start the season before the streak ended in Boston. Oh, don't look at me like that. Useless trivia is the backbone of baseball and oftentimes the only way to get through an American League game.
Surefire 2011 Prediction: I'll make it through the first two months of "Do you really want a relief pitcher on your roster named Grant [pause] Ball Four?" jokes from opposing broadcasters before I punch my living room wall.
Old School Rap Track for the Season: Don't Stop What You're Doing, Puff Daddy featuring Lil' Kim