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Monday, June 9, 2014
Sean Doolittle is pretty awesome right now

By David Schoenfield

Maybe you know the Sean Doolittle story: The 41st pick in the 2007 draft had some decent-not-great seasons as a minor league first baseman/outfielder, missed basically two full seasons after knee surgeries, turned to pitching in 2012 and reached the majors that year.

Anyway, Doolittle has done this so far in becoming one of the game's best relievers: 42 strikeouts, one walk.

I love stuff like that: One walk. Are you kidding? Doolittle has one walk in 28 appearances. Mitch Williams made it more than four games without a walk in his career just seven times. Goose Gossage once appeared in 14 consecutive games in which he issued at least one walk. A reliever in the 1970s named Jesse Jefferson once appeared in 23 consecutive games in relief without going walk-free. Doolittle makes Koji Uehara look like Nolan Ryan, baseball's all-time walks leader, when it comes to throwing strikes.

Doolittle's lone walk came back on May 23 against Rays catcher Ryan Hanigan. Doolittle threw four straight fastballs, all up and out of the zone, which has to rate as one of the unlikeliest outcomes of the season. He has gone to three balls to just 11 of the 108 batters he faced. Here's Doolittle's heat map:

Sean Doolittle strike zone


Doolittle is interesting -- basically pounding the strike zone with high four-seam fastballs. According to ESPN Stats & Information data, 359 of the 423 pitches he has thrown have been fastballs (85 percent). This is old-school stuff: Here's my fastball; hit it if you can. No tricks, few off-speed offerings, just a lot of high heat. Love it.

Really, the only similar pitchers are two other lefties -- Tampa Bay's Jake McGee, who has thrown the highest percentage of fastballs among pitchers with at least 15 innings at 94 percent; and St. Louis' Kevin Siegrist, who has thrown 89 percent fastballs. (The Dodgers' Kenley Jansen also has a higher percentage of fastballs, but his pitch has a late movement similar to a cutter. Luis Avilan of the Braves also throws the same percentage of fastballs as Doolittle, but his is a sinking fastball down in the zone.) McGee and Siegrist aren't up in the zone as often Doolittle, however, as both of their fastballs tend to ride inside to right-handed batters.

Doolittle has a strike percentage of 74 percent -- best in the majors among those with 15 innings. His percentage of pitches in the zone is also the highest. Batters know this: They swing at 56 percent of his offerings. Only Joe Thatcher and Phil Hughes see a higher percentage of swings.

Batters just can't hit him, or at least hit him very often. He's 1-2 with a 2.48 ERA and .181 batting average allowed. Since giving up four runs to the Astros in late April (he got blooped and bleeded in that one) he's pitched 17.1 scoreless innings and allowed a .091 average.

He has become the closer on what may be the best team in baseball and has locked down the ninth inning following Jim Johnson's struggles. Doolittle -- and his best-in-baseball beard -- should be heading to the All-Star Game and that's a pretty good story for a minor league first baseman with bad knees.