Would the A’s actually trade Sean Doolittle?

New-look A’s bullpen built around, not to replace, Sean Doolittle

In a recent article “13 log jams and possible solutions” MLB.com writer Phil Rogers tells us that the Oakland Athletics bullpen is over crowded with the recent additions of John Axford and Ryan Madson, who were both signed to multi-year deals with the club. His solution? Trading closer Sean Doolittle.

It’s extremely unlikely that trading Doolittle is even a remote possibility, although you never really know with vice president of baseball operations Billy Beane and his “understudy” GM David Forst at the helm of the team. Even still, the idea of trading the team’s closer is absolutely ludicrous and I’ll explain to you why as I refute the points made by Mr. Rogers.

“Billy Beane, however, added two guys capable of working the ninth inning”

Yes, Beane did bring in new faces into the bullpen, as previously mentioned, in John Axford and Ryan Madson. He also brought in right-hander Liam Hendriks from the Toronto Blue Jays and left-hander Marc Rzepczynski to shore up a bullpen that was ranked last in the league in 2015.

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Ryan Madson. Getty Images.

However, saying that Doolittle might lose his job to Axford or Madson is completely ludicrous. Every player has injuries. Doolittle suffered a partial rotator cuff tear last January and wasn’t able to pitch until May. He made one outing that was while not bad, it was telling that there was still something wrong. His velocity was down and he gave up walk. Giving up walks is not something that Doolittle does. A shoulder issue, unrelated to his rotator cuff injury shut down Doolittle until September.

Once he returned he looked like the All-Star Sean Doolittle of 2014. In his final home outing of the season Doolittle threw a five-pitch save. His velocity was up and he was striking out hitters. To think that Doolittle could not come back from his only injury-ridden season as a pitcher (Doolittle was originially a first baseman when drafted by Oakland but converted to a reliever in 2011), is just plain silly. Players comeback from Tommy John surgery all the time and current Oakland Athletic Jarrod Parker is working his way back from his second Tommy John procedure plus a third surgery on the same elbow.

In 2014, Doolittle was officially named the Athletics’ closer near the end of May – after he had already signed a contract extension with the team that could take him through the 2020 season. He was not allowed many save opportunities but when he was he ended the season 22 saves out of 26 save opportunities. What is most impressive about Doolittle is his ability to not allow walks and get mostly strikeouts instead. In 2014 he allowed 1.1 walks per nine innings, got 12.8 strikeouts per nine innings and had a strikeout to walk ratio of 11.13.

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John Axford. Getty Images.

On the other hand you have Axford and Madson. Both have the capacity to close games but not as well as a healthy Sean Doolittle. Axford had his best season in Milwaukee in 2011 leading the league with 46 saves in 48 save opportunities, however, that was by far his best season both in both ERA and saves. 2011 was the only time in his career he had an ERA under 3.00.  In 2015 he was removed from his position as the Colorado Rockies closer after blowing six of 31 saves. That isn’t to say he’s a bad pitcher. After the A’s usually strong seventh-inning pitcher Dan Otero struggled last season the A’s have brought in Axford likely to be that seventh-inning guy.

Similarly, the A’s usually dominant set-up man and former All-Star Ryan Cook struggled so much in 2015 that he spent almost all of the season at Triple-A Nashville and was eventually released by the team. Madson has had success in the past as a closer, saving 32 of 34 games for the Philadelphia Phillies in 2011.

Yet that was the last time he played in the majors until signing with the Kansas City Royals in 2015. He pitched very well in the set-up role for closer Wade Davis, making 68 appearances, pitching 63.1 innings while posting  2.13 ERA. He’s been brought in to take Cook’s place and hopefully restore the A’s usually strong bullpen to its normal place.

Neither Axford nor Madson have been brought in to replace Doolittle. After seeing him perform well during the last month of the season, it’s pretty clear that Beane and company, are going into the season with Doolittle as their closer. If he were to struggle or have an injury they now have sufficient and strong back-ups for him, but trading him is very likely not part of the plan.

“A Doolittle trade might help the A’s put the 2014 Wild Card meltdown behind them”

The “Wild Card meltdown” was not just a postseason meltdown. Sure, after Brandon Moss’ two homers put the A’s in the lead, it was a lead they should have been able to keep and the game should not have gone into extra innings which is a scenario in which luck greatly comes into play.

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Brandon Moss hits a grand slam. Ezra Shaw/Getty Images.

The real meltdown of the 2014 A’s, who were the by far the best team in baseball for the majority of the first half of the season, began in the beginning of July. Every player’s batting averages began to drop, prior to the trade of Yoenis Cespedes. The best example of this is Moss. He hit 21 home runs prior to the All-Star game and just four in the second half of the season, not including his two monster homers in the Wild Card game.

Things got worse with the A’s batting averages after the Cespedes trade, that is true. Yet, the trade of Cespedes didn’t cause the meltdown it only exacerbated it. With Moss’ injured hip keeping him from hitting, Derek Norris and Stephen Vogt’s averages down and Cespedes gone, there wasn’t anyone to protect Josh Donaldson in the A’s lineup. In the team’s one four game series against the Los Angeles Angels in Anaheim, the Angels pitchers pitched around Donaldson in each of his at-bats. The A’s ended up being swept.

During this time Doolittle was continuing to save the games in which the A’s were able to keep themselves in a position to win. Trading Doolittle is certainly not going to help anyone forget the meltdown that went on for three months of the regular season. That would be a ridiculous reason to trade a guy, who may be coming off of an injury, but can put up an 11.13 strikeout to walk ratio.

“a season in which they seemed stuck in the past.”

If the A’s were stuck in the past in 2015 that is shocking news to me. Beane traded away most of the players that made up the 2014 team. The majority of the players were so new to the team that many writers and fans joked that “they wouldn’t even be able to remember each other’s names.” The A’s had certainly moved on from 2014, they were definitely not stuck in the past.

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Sonny Gray. Jason O. Watson/Getty Images

It’s true that Oakland had a terrible 2015 season but that was mainly because of the absence of Doolittle. The roles in the bullpen were not defined. Cook and Otero, who had been so strong in recent seasons, well, it literally looked as though they had completely forgotten how to pitch.

The starting rotation was, with the exception of Sonny Gray and Jesse Chavez, a bunch of new faces quite a few of whom didn’t stay healthy throughout the entire season. Kendall Graveman showed a lot of promise in his first full season in the big leagues but like any rookie he struggled at times. With all the new faces on the 2015 Oakland A’s it doesn’t seem that they were still stuck in the past – simply because Doolittle was injured and they still kept him on their roster? That doesn’t make sense.

Also, as already noted, Doolittle had recently signed a contract extension. It seems unlikely that the Athletics’ would want to trade him after signing him to stay possibly for the next five seasons. Beane had built a strong bullpen and he has built it around what he expects to be a healthy Sean Doolittle. He’s taken precautions in case of injury by signing pitchers with closing experience but that is not a sign that Doolittle is going to be traded.

For a more concise and less blog-like (ie – I’ve edited it to be less emotional, if that makes sense. However, I like being able to express my true feelings on my blog so I always leave my original, if less professional, version on my blog) of this post you can find the finished product on Today’s Knuckleball via the link below:

A’s bullpen built around, not to replace, Sean Doolittle

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