Nationals Baseball: Sean Doolittle - the elite reliever gets his elite closing gig

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Sean Doolittle - the elite reliever gets his elite closing gig

Here's some stats for you

A 2.92 ERA,  2.46 FIP,  0.912 WHIP,  0.8 HR/9,  6.5 H/9,  1.7 BB/9,  10.7 K/9.

That's Sean Doolittle's career.  It's good right? It's very good in fact. Maybe even scraping great. It's not elite no but wait...

A 2.88 ERA,  0.896 WHIP,  0.8 HR/9,  1.7 BB/9,  10.8 K/9

A little better, right? This is what happens when you remove the year Doolittle was injured. It was only 13.2 IP but it was clearly his worst year.

Ok can we do even better. Normally I like to look at the last three years before the current one when judging a player before the year starts. But injuries can screw that up, especially if you think the player is now over whatever plagued them. In Doolittle's case because the year after his injury wasn't a full year but a 2/3rds injury recovery year I'm tempted to remove that. So let's not include that. I think that's pretty fair.  But that only leaves us with one year before this current one as the injury years were years 2 and 3 previous. Given his relatively young age, and the fact it wasn't a rookie year I think it's ok to grab that year 4 years ago. So in essence we're looking at his last 2 full years before 2018 and throwing in what he's done so far.  What do we see then?

A 2.56 ERA,  0.748 WHIP,  0.8 HR/9,  1.4 BB/9,  12.1 K/9

Guys we're getting pretty close to elite here. Given that it's 2 years let's look at say... Kenely Jansen's past two years

A 1.58 ERA,  0.708 WHIP,  0.6 HR/9,  1.2 BB/9,  14.0 K/9

It's not quite at this level. Even if you ignore the ERA which can be an iffy the FIP would likely be something like 2.15 for Doolittle and 1.40 for Jansen. So Doolittle isn't prime Jansen, but prime Jansen was probably the best closer in baseball the past five years. A dominant force, really. How would these numbers over the past two seasons compare to a...

Greg Holland? Doolittle is better.
Roberto Osuna? Doolittle is equal*
Craig Kimbrel? Doolittle is equal**
Wade Davis? Doolittle is better.
Alex Colome? Doolittle is better.

Chapman? Iglesias? Allen?  Better. Better. Better.

Now I'm sure you could dig in a little more and quibble about the exact positioning. But that misses the point.  Doolittle is not peak Kenley Jansen or peak Andrew Miller but these guys are singular talents, the Mike Trouts of the relief world.  After them is there anyone better than Doolittle? Stats wise it doesn't seem so.

So why doesn't Doolittle get praise? Even when we look at that very top stat line he was still very good and that was including his injury years.  Well, because he never really got to close. He was a set-up man his first two seasons behind the very competent Grant Balfour. In 2014 it took a month and half for him to be named closer as the A's were planning on relying on Jim Johnson who crashed and burned.  He'd also miss 3 weeks late in the year leaving him with only 22 saves. He'd be injured early into 2015 and when he came back in 2016 Ryan Madson has established himself in the closer role. In 2017 Santiago Casilla was brought in AND the A's wanted to use Blake Treinen*** in that role so Doolittle would only get a chance here and there. In the end that meant despite being a top relief guy since 2012 Doolittle only amassed 36 saves in 5 1/2 seasons. That's not going to get noticed.

But with Jansen struggling, Doolittle is as good a closer as anyone in baseball currently. He's the guy the Nats have been looking for years****  Now will that hold into the playoffs? That I can't tell you. But what I will tell you is I don't see the Nats trading for anyone better to close out games this year. Doolittle is the guy.

I forgot to add the homestand goals. The minimum would be split v Yankees, and winning both the Padres and Dodgers series. But winning or sweeping?  The Dodgers and Padres are both playing awful so sweeps are certainly in play and you should sweep some bad teams at home (because you'll probably lose some series to bad teams away). But it's hard to go out and say they should sweep BOTH so I'll say sweep one, win one.  That'll put the homestand at 1-1 plus 5-1 combined or a 6-2 homestand overall and likely a game or two in the standings.  5-3 is acceptable. 4-4 is not.

*Forced to choose I'd say Osuna would have edge bc youth and bc most recent year he did pitch much better, but now he's injured  currently not playing because he's a bad person and Doolittle's not so that's moot. 

**Kimbrel strikes out a ton more but is prone to problems. Walks in 2016. HRs so far this year

*** 0.93 ERA currently! No he's not that good but he can close.  Problem was something in his head. Don't discount the Nationals tendency to always be looking for the next closing arm. 

****Now I'd argue that despite what you'd think the Nats closer situation has been EXCELLENT over this whole time period. These names of guys you hate - they were all good to really good. Storen's 2015? Fantastic. Melancon's time before and with Nats? Depressing for both runs and other teams. But failures in the playoffs, even if fluky and singular, aren't overlooked by fans. 


Anonymous said...

Wasn't Treinen a piece of the Doolittle trade? So they wouldn't have overlapped at all.

Harper said...

Yes - dammit. I was looking up Casilla information and THOSE two overlapped and I conflated the two. I knew it sounded funny but the audience demands content! And my work demands work! Anyway - fixed.

Ryan said...

Osuna is not injured, he was arrested

Sammy Kent said...

There was a time I would have given five prospects and the fatted calf to Atlanta for Craig Kimbrell. I will now happily put Doo against anyone else out there.

Ole PBN said...

Doolittle is a stud. In my mind though, there are only 3 elite closers: Kimbrel, Chapman, and Jansen, due to longevity of superior success. However, I'm up for Doolittle joining that group based on "what have you done for me lately." He's stratospheric since coming to DC. Overall, perhaps the only thing that keeps Doolittle out of the conversation as an elite closer is the number of saves over the years while never eclipsing 25 saves in a season. In fact, 66 saves through 6+ seasons; although he wasn't a full-time closer for a lot of those years in Oakland. Also, his career save percentage is an uninspiring 81.4%. Guys like Kimbrel, Chapman, and Jansen boast 90.6%, 89.1%, and 89.3%, respectively. Greats like Rivera (89.0%) and Hoffman (88.7%) put up better success rates as well.

However, since coming to DC, Doolittle sits at 96.7%. In that same time, Kimbrel (88.4%), Chapman (86.1%), and Jansen (94.0%) are all looking up. Doolittle's argument is aided by a small sample size. Take a look at Zach Britton's career... unreal numbers since he became Baltimore's closer.

On a separate note, people compare Scherzer and Kershaw. Most people would say that Kershaw takes the cake easily and baseball's #1 pitcher, and I agree. But if you look at since Max came to Washington, the numbers tell a different story. Longevity is key when assessing who the best is. But if you're going to qualify it with "who is the best right now" then you might come up with a different answer.

Anonymous said...

Sammy, you wouldn't have had to give that much. The stupid Braves gave him and Melvin Upton (now out of baseball) up for: Jordan Paroubeck (never made it past A ball), Cameron Maybin (was mediocre for ATL in one season and regressed further after that), Carlos Quentin (never even played for ATL after acquired, and Matt Wisler (who blows/is always injured). Well done Braves.

G Cracka X said...

One takeaway here is that both the Nats and the As must be happy with last year's trade. Along with Treinen's excellent beginning to this season, WaPo had good things to say about how Jesus Luzardo is progressing.

Josh Higham said...

@Ole PBN Unless I'm mistaken about how the stat is calculated, Doolittle's career save% is depressed by spending most of his career in setup roles. If you come in with a lead in the 9th, you virtually always get a "save opportunity" because pitchers rarely come out in the 9th. But if you come in in the 8th, you get credited with a "save opportunity" either for giving up the lead (BS) or finishing the game (S). Save% has a bloated denominator for players who sometimes save games but also frequently come into the game earlier than the 9th.

Kimbrel/Jansen/Chapman benefit (in terms of Save%) from spending relatively little of their career in non-9th inning roles. With players whose Roles™ are not comparable across their careers, save% is not much better than raw saves for comparing performance. The "since Doolittle came to DC" metric is fair.

Bjd1207 said...

Saves are dumb. And save percentage is only slightly less dumb than counting saves. Harper gave us the stats we should be looking at, the peripherals. Not outcome dependent stats

cass said...

Doolittle is a stud, but at clearly need bullpen carts at Nats Park. Make it happen.

We have to link to this article, right?

And replying to comment on previous thread, yeah, A-Rod is atrocious which is frustrating since ESPN was surprisingly good last year and Jessica Mendoza is fantastic.

Josh Higham said...

@Bjd amen

Sammy Kent said...

Rizzo should have already had the bullpen cart delivered to the ball park. Teddy could use it for the Presidents Race too.

mike k said...

Big fan of that article. I had no idea he was so good. I guess you just get accustomed to expecting the closer to succeed every night such that their success sneaks by you.

Alan Wiecking said...

WAR help, please. How the heck is Max a 2.2 WAR and Nola is 2.9?

Both have 58.2 IP
Nola has 13ER, Max 11
Max has a 0.82 WHIP, Nola 0.99
Max has a 1.69 ERA, Nola 1.99

So I figured, maybe it's hitting.......Nola hits like a pitcher .063 with a .181 OPS. Max is sick with a .292/.625 (.292 only puts Hendricks above him, not counting Reynolds or Cole)

Fielding? Max has an error, Nola has none.

Where does Nola's 0.7 advantage come from?

Ryan said...

Max has 3 unearned runs, so he's at 14 compared to Nola at 13, I think that's the difference

Ryan said...

park factors might be the rest of the difference

BxJaycobb said...

Jesus Luzardo is going to be bad once he gets to majors. Guy is a beast. Most worrisome of all the prospect arms we’ve given up last couple years.

G. said...

Scherzer gets my vote as #1 ace in the league...
but I still regret Dusty playing him in that 2017 NLDS final game against the Cubs.
Roark should've been given the call imo.

JE34 said...

...and after all the discussion about defensive value, Andrew Stevenson's blunder in CF cost the Nats a rain-shortened win. Oh the humanity.

Alan Wiecking said...

Traditionally, that's Adams' blunder. CF calls for a ball, he gets the ball.......and bushwa, JP, it wasn't that loud. Adams just hasn't played enough OF.

Mr. T said...

Adams' blunder? The ball was hit right to him. He was camped under it. Stevensen reminds me of this guy I used to play softball with, who'd tear across to either side from CF, screaming "mine mine!" at anything that wasn't hit down the line. "Centerfielder's ball," he'd shrug afterwards. We stopped inviting him after awhile.

Lou said...

Given that Stevensen and Harper almost had the same issue on a fly ball earlier in the game, I think Stevensen not communicating is probably the issue

Mark said...

So we don't need a "closer", but we do need a couple of reliable middle inning arms, and it never hurts to have more one inning shutdown guys. You worry a little about taking someone else's closer to be a late inning guy when they want to close, but another closer type arm would be extremely valuable in the playoffs. How about someone who is great through the lineup once to pair with Hellickson?

Anonymous said...

Alan - what WAR measure are you using? By fWAR, Scherzer is at 2.6 WAR and Nola is at 1.7. Fangraphs uses FIP as the basis for its pitcher WAR whereas baseball reference (I believe) uses ERA. That still doesn't explain why Nola's bWAR is higher than Scherzer's because Scherzer has a better ERA. I agree with others that park factors must have something to do with it.

My recommendation is to look at fWAR for pitchers because I think FIP is a better measure than ERA (though FIP is definitely not perfect).

Alan Wiecking said...

Just pulled the WAR off the ESPN stats page, so not sure how it measures up. It just seemed so crazy that they had that discrepancy that I was wondering how it could be explained.

Shoulda put the traditionally in quotes on the Adams/Stevenson thing. It's still the way it's taught, doesn't make it "right".