Brian Fuentes on pace to shatter record for relief losses

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Somewhat obscured by Brian Fuentes ripping his manager after last night’s game is that the whole thing transpired because he was stripped of closing duties and then took his seventh loss of the season while pitching in a non-save situation.

Fuentes is now 1-7 with a 5.06 ERA through the A’s first 48 games, which puts him on pace to lose 23 or 24 times this season. Suffice it to say that would be an all-time record for a reliever. By a lot.

Here’s the current single-season relief losses leaderboard:

Gene Garber        1979     16
Mike Marshall      1975     14
Mike Marshall      1979     14
Darold Knowles     1970     14
John Hiller        1974     14

It’s no coincidence that every season listed above is from the 1970s, when relievers often logged 100-plus innings and racked up far more decisions because bullpen management didn’t revolve around the save stat. Gene Garber threw 106 innings with a 4.33 ERA in his 16-loss season, getting the save or a decision in 47 of his 68 appearances.

At first glance you might see that list and conclude that Mike Marshall must have been a terrible reliever, but that’s far from the truth. In fact, he was one of the best relievers of his era and probably the most durable reliever in baseball history. In the two seasons listed above in which he lost 14 games as a reliever Marshall logged 109 and 143 innings. And he had ERAs of 2.65 and 3.29 while winning 19 games.

Fuentes has little chance of breaking Garber’s record by losing 17 times, let alone 23 or 24 defeats, but he’s off to a helluva start.

Diamondbacks, T.J. McFarland avoid arbitration

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Bob Nightengale of USA TODAY Sports reports that the Diamondbacks and reliever T.J. McFarland have avoided arbitration, agreeing on a $1.45 million salary for the 2019 season. McFarland, in his third of four years of arbitration eligibility, filed for $1.675 million while the Diamondbacks countered at $1.275 million. McFarland ended up settling for just under the midpoint of those two figures.

McFarland, 29, was terrific out of the bullpen for the D-Backs last season, finishing with a 2.00 ERA and a 42/22 K/BB ratio in 72 innings. While the lefty may not miss a lot of bats, he does induce quite a few grounders. His 67.9 percent ground ball rate last season was the third highest among relievers with at least 50 innings, trailing only Brad Ziegler (71.1%) and Scott Alexander (70.6%).

McFarland was dominant against left-handed hitters, limiting them to a .388 OPS last season, but the D-Backs deployed him nearly twice as often against right-handed hitters, who posted an aggregate .764 OPS against him. It will be interesting to see if the club decides to use him more as a platoon reliever in 2019.