Sean Doolittle and His “Almost” Walks


Last night Sean Doolittle pitched a spotless 9th inning against the Marlins. He retired all three fish in order while striking out two, including the monster who calls himself Giancarlo Stanton. In the inning, he threw 13 pitches and only one was called a ball.

The recent buzz around Sean Doolittle in sabermetric circles and around the league is his eye-popping K/BB ratio, 55:1 after this evening’s performance. The A’s ginger-bearded reliever has continued to be absolutely lights out this season, and has performed admirably in the closer role originally intended for the struggling Jim Johnson. Doolittle owns a shiny 1.89 ERA to go along with his minuscule 0.97 FIP heading into this weekend’s series in Miami.

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So yes, Doolittle is a really good pitcher. He does the good things a lot (striking out over 40% of the batters he’s faced) and he doesn’t let bad things happen very often (having given up just two dingers and one walk in 38 innings this season).

That one walk stands out, doesn’t it? And as it turns out he’s only been one pitch away from a second one 13 times.

That’s right, out of the 133 batters Sean Doolittle has faced this season, only fourteen have worked themselves into a 3-ball count against the A’s former first base prospect. Let’s look at every last one of those, shall we?

3 Ball Count Number: 1     Batter: Mike Aviles                           Outcome: Strikeout

Here, Doolittle’s first pitch to Aviles is a strike in the heart of the zone, followed by three balls high and outside. Aviles fouled off the fifth pitch, and struck out looking on a pitch low and inside.

3 Ball Count Number: 2     Batter: Kole Calhoun                   Outcome: Double

Now this is interesting. Lefty on lefty, Doolittle gets behind Calhoun 2-0 and then 3-1. From that pitch on, Doolittle stays at home in the zone for the rest of the 8 pitch at bat. Finally, Calhoun swings at a low-outside strike and slapped it into left-center for a double.

The next at bat, Mike Trout did the Mike Trout thing and put a ball in the seats. So half of Doolittle’s home runs and two of his earned runs came from that at-bat. Stupid Angels. The A’s did go on to win this one in 11.

3 Ball Count Number: 3     Batter: Jason Castro                             Outcome: Flyout

If you haven’t read this Fangraph’s article, you should. Doolittle *loves* to work up in the zone and this is a fantastic example of that tendency. In this game, Doolittle relieved Johnson with two outs in the 7th and runners on 1st and 3rd with Castro coming to the plate.

He gets the Astro’s catcher down 0-2 with two inside strikes, the first a called strike on an 82 mph slider that sets up five straight 96 mph fastballs. The three balls come as high heat in succession, and the final pitch is in high-but-in-the-zone. Castro made contact, but ended up lifting a lazy fly into left field for Craig Gentry.

3 Ball Count Number: 4     Batter: Jesus Guzman                               Outcome: Strikeout

Two 3-ball counts in the same game? Preposterous. An inning after getting into a full count with Castro, he gets into another one with the right-handed Guzman. Guzman strikes out.

Fun facts:

Guzman has 136 plate appearances this year and has slashed .213/.294/.287.

Doolittle has faced 136 batters this year and they are slashing .150/.156/.226.

Sean Doolittle: He makes the league look worse than Jesus Guzman.

3 Ball Count Number: 5     Batter: L.J. Hoes                                       Outcome: Strikeout

Doolittle working outside again against another righty, this time Astros’ left-fielder L.J. Hoes.

I’m not super familiar with Hoes’s approach, but it looks like he’s pretty selective on pitches out of the zone (his O-Swing is 23.6%, that would be in the lowest 25 players if he had enough PA to qualify). So Hoes didn’t bite on anything out of the zone against Doolittle, but took a cut at every ball in the zone…including the almost-97-mph fastball that struck him out.

Seven pitches. Seven fastballs. Sean Doolittle.

3 Ball Count Number: 6     Batter: Jose Altuve                                         Outcome: Single

This was not Doolittle’s night. He gave up four straight singles to Marwin Gonzalez, Altuve, Dexter Fowler and Jason Castro before being lifted in favor of Luke Gregerson. All four runners scored, of course. There’s half of Doolittle’s earned runs from 2014 right there, in the infinitesimal sliver of 0.0 innings pitched, given up to the Astros. Baseball is weird.

Ball 2 (pitch 3 on the chart) looks pretty strike-y to me, but umps make mistakes. They’re human too, folks, just like you and me and Sean Doolittle*.

*Sean Doolittle might not be human.

3 Ball Count Number: 7     Batter: Ryan Hanigan                   Outcome: WALK!?!?!?!

This is it, readers. “The Walk” as we call it here at FanSided HQ displayed in all it’s glory. (Full disclosure, this is my first post so it’s not like I know what anyone calls anything around here.)

This is curious, not because Doolittle was pitching up and out of the zone and entirely with fastballs around 95-97 mph. That’s actually sort of his game plan. No, this is striking because it was a four pitch walk…completely out of character. Even more, the next batter, Logan Forsythe, went up 2-0 on Doolittle. Six straight balls? That’s almost as weird as giving up four straight singles.

3 Ball Count Number: 8     Batter: Logan Forsythe                                 Outcome: Single

Logan Forsythe sounds more like a Jane Austen character than a baseball player and he’s the first Forsythe in the major leagues since 1915. He also got a combined 5 balls and a single from Doolittle over two days. As things go for batters against Doolittle, that’s a pretty good week.

3 Ball Count Number: 9     Batter: Kole Calhoun                         Outcome: Single

Welcome Kole Calhoun, the inaugural member of the “Getting Two 3-ball Counts From Sean Doolittle in 2014” club! That might seem a little granular, but hey…he’s also tied for the highest .OPS among players with three or more plate appearances against Doolittle! Hey, come back here! I’m training to be a TV analyst!

I actually love the sequencing in this at bat: First pitch is way outside, the second comes high and tight, the next is high but Calhoun whiffs on it in the zone, the fourth pitch is very low and followed by a pitch just a bit higher for a called strike. Then Doolittle fires his fastest pitch of the AB just outside and out of reach for the K. Again, all he’s using is gas. He faced four batters and threw 20 pitches, all fastballs.

3 Ball Count Number: 10    Batter: Collin Cowgill                       Outcome: Strikeout

This is fun. This was an awesome three batter, three K save for Doolittle. Sixteen of seventeen pitches were fastballs, including all seven that Cowgill saw in this at bat.

The right handed Cowgill didn’t offer at any of the first five pitches of this sequence, essentially backing into a full count against Doolittle. What would Doo do? He’d put two fastballs in the zone and see what “Two L’s in both names” Cowgill could do with them. Answer: Not much.

3 Ball Count Number: 11    Batter: Jacoby Ellsbury                       Outcome: Groundout

In this save against the Yankees, Doolittle had a rare K-free outing. Brett Gardner grounded out, Jeter hit a fly out and then Ellsbury ended the game after this 7 pitch battle.

The left-handed Ellsbury took a couple balls high and tight and one outside. More interesting, though is the rare appearance of Doolittle’s slider with the third pitch. I’m sure it’s a fine pitch, but it’s more fun for my Doolittle narrative to imagine Ellsbury just couldn’t believe he was seeing anything that wasn’t a fastball.

3 Ball Count Number: 12    Batter:Brian McCann                   Outcome: Pop Out

Another no-K inning against the Yankees. Huh.

Weirder still, Doolittle threw four straight sliders to the Yankees’ catcher. After the first went for a called strike, he threw three sliders down and low — one of which McCann took a hack at. In researching this article there wasn’t another at bat I saw where he threw more than one slider, and more often than not he throws just fastballs. This is where we have to assume that players/coaches in the MLB have a different amount of information than we do. Maybe there’s a special way to pitch to guys who know all the unwritten rules.

Anyhow, after the sliders he pressed three fastballs inside until McCann popped one up, but he popped it up THE RIGHT WAY.

3 Ball Count Number: 13    Batter:Daniel Robertson                     Outcome: Flyout

Wow, the Rangers are a hot mess. The injury situation in Texas has reached the level where I’m not recognizing position players on their team. Daniel Robertson? Who’s that? I mean, I don’t have every team down to backup catchers and mop-up relievers…but I’m pretty familiar with most of the regulars, especially in the AL West.

At any rate, Daniel Robertson is doing his best trying to adjust to major league pitching and shouldn’t be asked to come up with two outs in the ninth inning with his team down four runs. Daniel Robertson now understands that life simply isn’t fair.

3 Ball Count Number: 14    Batter:Ruben Tejada                                 Outcome: Strikeout

Tejada went down 0-2 and Doolittle did the “high heat” thing he does.

Did you know that Ruben Tejada has been intentionally walked seven times this season? SEVEN TIMES. Ruben Tejada. The Ruben Tejada with the .236/.352/.303 slash line and two dingers this year. Some Mets blogger should write an article on that. I would read it in a heartbeat.

So that’s it, every 3-ball count that Sean Doolittle has pitched this season. We can see that he loves to pitch high, he loves to throw fastballs, and he’s really good at this pitching thing.

I think it’s notable that eleven of these fourteen at bats ended with full counts. He also was only ever in three 3-1 counts and two 2-0 counts (“The Walk” excepting — his only 3-0 count this season) in this set of plate appearances. So even when he gets himself a pitch away from a walk, he has thus far done well avoiding the counts that put him at a real disadvantage with hitters.

All charts credit to Brooks Baseball