For a while it was “closer by committee” for the Oakland Athletics after Jim Johnson‘s rough start to the season. Actually even their, now regular, closer Sean Doolittle had a rough time in April, ending the month with a 5.68 ERA.
Since then however the relatively unknown closer has been quietly making waves among MLB relievers. Doolittle has not given up a run since April 26. His ERA is back down to a much more appealing 2.48 and here’s the big one, he has allowed just one walk this season. On top of that he became the first pitcher since the year 1900 to record 40 strikeouts before walking their second batter of the year.
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 7, 2014
That would be a good statistic if it were from the turn of this century but the turn of the last century? It seems crazy, on the one hand that someone could do that in the first place, and even more crazy that it took so long for someone to accomplish it again.
That makes it 114 years in the history of approximately – 130 plus years – of a game that has seen its fair share of great pitchers since anyone has had Doolittle’s ratio of strikeouts to walks. As of his last appearance on Friday night, where he struck out the Orioles’ side of Chris Davis, J.J. Hardy and Steve Pearce on just 12 pitches, his strikeout to walk ratio is an astonishing 42:1.
Beyond that, is the fact that his accomplishment didn’t even make the national news. If it did it eluded me and quite a few others. Not surprisingly the reason it was probably so overlooked is because he is a member of the Athletics, the always competitive yet hardly covered, “other” team by the bay.
I was deep into searching for a good story before finding it. It wouldn’t be surprising to know that Doolittle hasn’t even realized what he has accomplished but he is just that kind of guy. It had been noted previously that he had only given up just one walk but it was not noticeably mentioned anywhere that I could find that this was such a huge feat.
It is an especially, huge feat for a guy who does not fit the description of your average closer. He isn’t a hard throwing right-hander with a deadly go-to strike out pitch, like Mariano Rivera‘s signature cutter.
Doolittle was drafted by the A’s as a first baseman and converted to a pitcher in just 2011. He spent his first two full seasons with Oakland as a middle reliever who threw only a fastball that tops out in the mid-90’s. He is also a lefty. Like I said, not your average closer type.
Over the off-season he did develop a slider and a change up for his repertoire of pitches but he uses them scarcely, still using his deceptive fastball to baffle hitters. It’s deceptive because of his starting point on the rubber, the far first base side, and his unusual release point which is right around his left ear. For whatever reason it makes the ball almost impossible for the batter to see which, as is obvious by his statistics, usually means a swing and a miss.
The A’s recently signed the southpaw to a contract extension that can reach as far into the future as 2020. One of the incentives was based upon the number of games finished between 2018-2019 so it appears that as usual the A’s were doing the their own thing and eyeing Doolittle as their closer of the future. However with Jim Johnson’s struggles and Doolittle’s success, he is no longer the closer of the future but the closer of today.