sean doolittle, closer, returns, success, 2016 bullpen, new bullpen

Should the A’s be worried about Doolittle?

Yes, the A’s should be worried about Sean Doolittle

Sean Doolittle has allowed just 16 home runs in his entire career dating back to 2012, when he was starting out as a member of the Oakland A’s bullpen in 2012.

He allowed just three in 2012 and four in 2013. In early 2014 Doolittle signed a five-year contract extension (with two team options) and was named the team’s closer in late May, replacing a struggling Jim Johnson.

He allowed a career-high five home runs that season but he also became the first player in the modern era to reach 45 strikeouts before allowing his second walk of the season. He made the all-star team that year and finished the season with an astonishing 11.13 strikeout to walk ratio.

Sean Doolittle. Getty Images.

What’s concerning is that in 2016 Dooliittle has already allowed three homers in 5.1 innings of work. This begs the question, “Is it too early in the season to be worrying about Sean Doolittle?”

The answer is no, it is not too early to be worried. Under most circumstances the answer to that question would be “yes,” being that at the moment most teams are at most only 11 or 12 games into the season.

The A’s circumstances are a bit different that most teams, however, after a dismal 2015 campaign in which the team finished at the bottom of the entire American League with a 68-94 record.

To turn things around this season, the A’s need to take everything seriously, regardless of how small the matter may seem or how early in the season it is.

Given that Doolittle has already reached his career average number of home runs per season in such a small number of outings, this is potentially a very big problem.

On bright spot is that Doolittle has been taking the issue seriously since Tuesday, the day he allowed his second home run on the year in a blown save against the Los Angeles Angels.  He has stayed late to watch tapes, looking for flaws in his delivery.

Having a closer that takes a couple of home runs seriously definitely isn’t a problem, but still there’s now an even bigger problem.

This problem? Doolittle hasn’t found anything major, “just little nitpicky things so minor you don’t know if they have any impact,” he said recently.

Doolittle didn’t pitch again until Friday. After three days of watching tapes and working on his delivery, Doolittle allowed

Eric Hosmer, doolittle
Eric Hosmer. Getty Images.

another game winning home run to the Kansas City Royals’ first baseman Eric Hosmer, only the fifth lefty to ever go yard off of the southpaw.

Both catcher Stephen Vogt and Doolittle see the first two home runs, hit by Chicago White Sox shortstop Jimmy Rollins and Angels’ catcher Geovany Soto, as misplaced pitches. There’s also the fact that Soto is a former Athletic who has caught Doolittle before. Still is that enough to explain away three home runs this early in the season?

Vogt went as far as to call Hosmer’s home run as “an unbelievable piece of hitting.” He’s right too. It isn’t easy to hit a ball out to center field at the Oakland Alameda Coliseum this time of year, especially considering the marine layer that settles in at night.

Yet, if Doolittle and Vogt can’t find anything wrong with his delivery, there are other problems the 29-year-old left hander could be facing. Sources other than Doolittle and his catcher have noted that all three home runs have come off of fastball that were out over the plate. So perhaps Doolittle’s pitch to Hosmer wasn’t up and inside as Vogt has described.

It could be a matter of location. Hitters can be sitting on Doolittle’s fastball and not respecting his breaking pitch, meaning that when they finally do get that fastball out over the plate they are ready for it. They hit it out of the park.

While that isn’t the consensus of the Athletics, it’s a definite possibility. Doolittle has said that he is optimistic, that like a hitter’s slump he’ll find the answers by getting to the park early – watching more tapes and reading scouting reports.

However, until Doolittle can figure out what is going wrong for him, the A’s have two capable closers in John Axford and Ryan Madson. The time to worry about Doolittle is now.

Manager Bob Melvin needs to use the two veteran relievers in Axford and Madson in combination with rookie Ryan Dull, who has been phenomenal, to close out games – for now. The 2016 Athletics do not have time to “wait and see” if Doolittle will come around. For now using him in the earlier innings until they see better results appears to be the prudent thing to do.

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