It wasn’t that long ago, 13 days to be exact, that Sean Doolittle was well on his way to being recognized as one the the league’s top left handed relievers. After pitching 2 completely dominant innings on May 27 versus the San Francisco Giants, Doolittle’s ERA stood at a nifty 0.78 on the season. He appeared to be well on his way to becoming an All Star, perhaps once again the lone representative for the unheralded Athletics. You can throw that all out the window now.
It’s difficult to say what exactly changed with him, but in his next outing versus the Giants he simply looked hittable. In a wild game at AT&T Park, Doolittle surrendered 2 ER in 1.1 innings of work, which saw his ERA balloon to 1.48. In his subsequent appearances since, he allowed 2 runs in an inning of work to blow a win for Dan Straily versus the White Sox, and allowed 3 runs without retiring a batter to blow a win for A.J. Griffin versus the Brewers in the span of just 4 pitches, he delivered one scoreless inning versus Chicago before taking the hill once again on Saturday. In a tie game in the 8th inning, Doolittle sealed the victory for the White Sox by allowing 3 ER while retiring just one batter to inflate his ERA all the way to 4.05. This was the first of Doolittle’s implosions that directly cost the Athletics a game.
The frightening aspect of his problems is that he’s getting hit, and hit hard.
It’s understandable that pitchers go through mechanical issues that might cause them to lose all of their effectiveness, and this may very well be what’s going on with Doolittle right now. Althought it doesn’t seem that the Athletics are recognizing that fact just yet as they continue to put him into high leverage situations. Perhaps now that his struggles directly led to a loss they’ll give him more time in lower leverage situations as he works his problems out. Albert Einstein said that the definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over again and expecting to get different results, and the Athletics handling of Sean Doolittle right now is very much that.
So Doolittle sits at a crossroads in his young career. He can get his issues worked out, and return to being part of the dominant back end of the bullpen for the Athletics along with Grant Balfour and Ryan Cook (Honorable mention for Jerry Blevins as well). Or he can continue on this new path of simply being just another relief pitcher.
Doolittle is too talented to be just another reliever, and chances are he’s ultimately the closer of the future for the Athletics when Grant Balfour moves on. His confidence has to be shaken right now, anyone’s confidence would be after the two weeks he’s had. To use the cliche, Doolittle has to learn how to be a pitcher now and not just a thrower. The opposition in MLB will always pick up on flaws or tendencies in a pitcher’s routine and exploit them to the fullest, perhaps the league has caught up to him. His mental game is being tested right now, in terms of his confidence and in terms of his ability to readjust to a league that may have adjusted to him. It’s a perpetual game of cat and mouse in MLB, the ultimate chess match, and it’s Sean Doolittle’s move.