Should Sean Doolittle be the Athletics’ Closer?


Sep 19, 2014; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Athletics relief pitcher Sean Doolittle (62) and catcher Derek Norris (36) celebrate after defeating the Philadelphia Phillies 3-1 at Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

Sean Doolittle is one of the most beloved players on the Oakland Athletics. He is open and honest in post game interviews, and downright funny on Twitter. A series of events led to Doolittle taking over the closer role during the 2014 season, and he was the best fit of all of the shoes that Cinderella tried on. But is he the best option for the A’s in that role moving forward?

The A’s brought in a veteran closer last off-season to solidify the position with the departure of Grant Balfour. The closer they brought in, Jim Johnson (Cinderella’s evil step-sibling), struggled to the tune of a 7.14 ERA and left the A’s searching for a new ninth inning man. Luke Gregerson was given a shot at the ninth, and quickly lost the job, accruing eight blown saves over the course of the season, while nailing down just three.

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Sean Doolittle was given the opportunity to close, and did a fairly good job. He ended the season with an Oakland record for southpaws at 22 saves, while also collecting four blown saves, to the tune of a 2.73 ERA. His strikeout to walk ratio really turned some heads at an 11.13 clip.

Doolittle was the best option under the circumstances in 2014, there is no denying that. The only thing that scares me is that he is predominantly a fastball pitcher, throwing his heater 87.6% of the time in 2014 according to FanGraphs. Again, I’m okay with this, until it comes to the playoffs.

In three postseason appearances, Doolittle’s numbers have been average. As we have seen this postseason, a dominant closer is nearly a must. Since 2012, his ERAs in October (or this year’s almost October wild card game) are 3.38, 4.15 and 4.50. I’m not saying that Sean Doolittle can’t close out big games, I’m just noting that he hasn’t yet.

Only Mariano Rivera has been able to last an entire career by throwing one pitch. Look at Sergio Romo across the Bay this season. Teams started figuring out that he only throws a slider, and it’s usually out of the strike zone. Hitters adjusted their approach, and Bruce Bochy was then forced to relieve Romo of closing duties.

I would love nothing more than for Doo to be the closer in Oakland for many seasons to come, and with the contract he signed mid-season, that is a real possibility. Yet, his playoff numbers, and the lack of a true secondary pitch worry me.

If Sean Doolittle is able to add–and harness, a second pitch this offseason, I believe that he will have a fantastic 2015. Yet, if brass in Oakland thought he was the answer all along, they wouldn’t have traded for Jim Johnson last offseason. They, and I, am looking for an improvement from Doo.

This is not meant as a “Let’s throw Doolittle under the bus” piece by any stretch. I would like to have a healthy debate over what direction the team is moving in going forward, and it starts with the man, the beard, at the back-end of the bullpen.