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August 7, 2013

Pebble Hunting

Sean Doolittle and Doing What Works

by Sam Miller


This is part three of the Sean Doolittle trilogy. Part 1, in ESPN the Magazine, focused on Sean Doolittle—who, at the time, had thrown about 35 innings as a pro—to consider whether we need to change the way we think about pitching’s complexities. Part 2, here, looked at whether Brand New Pitcher Sean Doolittle had developed any more nuance in his next 50 innings, and concluded that he hadn’t. Other than picking up a little extra fire in his demeanor.

Part 3 might not seem necessary. Here’s Doolittle this year, compared to Doolittle last year:

  • 2012: 130 ERA+, 5.45 Ks/BB, 0.6 HR/9, 2.03 FRA
  • 2013: 130 ERA+, 5.38 Ks/BB, 0.6 HR/9, 2.32 FRA

You’d have a hard time finding a pitcher whose stats are more similar this year than that, so why would we need an update? But Doolittle is actually quite a bit different this year. Last year he struck out 11.4 batters per nine; this year, it’s 8.0 per nine. He is facing fewer batters per inning this year, so the difference is even starker as a percentage:

  • 2012: 31 percent Ks, 19th among pitchers with at least 30 innings
  • 2013: 23 percent Ks, outside the top 100, behind Cliff Lee and Jose Mijares

So three-quarters of the strikeout rate but just as good a pitcher. Indeed, by the measures he prefers, he has been even better. Doolittle was talking about advanced stats on KNBR the other day and, while claiming that FIP and WAR were beyond him,

I think the more telling stat than ERA would be WHIP, how many guys is this guy letting on base. Maybe he has a low ERA but a high WHIP, and maybe it’s like this guy’s playing with fire, it’s only a matter of time before his stats even out. When we’re sitting down there in the bullpen and we’re looking at numbers I think that’s the one that we as players are putting the most stock in.

So if we play by his terms, then 2013 has undoubtedly been better than 2012: he has cut his WHIP from 1.08 to 0.90, with a walk rate cut by a third, and a BABIP that he has cut by 70 points. And I probably just lost you with that last part, because relief pitchers' BABIPs going down generally aren't worth a long post. I like Sean Doolittle a lot, though, so bear with me.

First, to retrace the steps we took in Part 2 of this trilogy, let’s look at his repertoire. Not only has he not started working in his breaking ball more; he’s leaning even more heavily on his fastball, upping usage from 80 percent to lefties and 91 percent to righties last year to 83 and 93 percent this year. Only three pitchers (Kenley Hansen, Ernesto Frieri, and Jake McGee) have thrown fastballs more frequently.

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Related Content:  Pitching,  Sean Doolittle

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<< Previous Article
Premium Article What You Need to Know:... (08/07)
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