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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

How Sean Doolittle switched from first base to star relief pitcher. | SportsonEarth.com : Joe Lemire Article

Sean Doolittle’s odd path to the big leagues.

Jim Furtado Posted: June 10, 2014 at 06:13 AM | 32 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: athletics, sean doolittle

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   1. PASTE Thinks This Trout Kid Might Be OK (Zeth) Posted: June 10, 2014 at 06:39 AM (#4722338)
I just came here to post about Doolittle in an Omnichatter or somewhere after snapping my eye on him in Keri's column. 26 innings, 42 strikeouts and 1 walk! Holy mother of god!
   2. Dan Lee is some pumkins Posted: June 10, 2014 at 07:57 AM (#4722346)
The really interesting (to me) thing about Doolittle is that, unlike a lot of position players (Joe Nathan, Kenley Jansen) who converted to pitching, Doolittle was still a legit prospect as a first baseman. He hit .286/.358/.495 as a 21-year-old across the Cal and Texas leagues in '08, then as a 22-year-old he hit .267/.364/.448 in AAA before he got injured.

He might not have been the second coming of Lou Gehrig, but it's not unreasonable to say he was on track to be a better option than Daric Barton.
   3. AROM Posted: June 10, 2014 at 09:22 AM (#4722372)
Barton has now played for parts of 8 seasons in AAA and has hit 277/397/427 there. Doolittle as a 1B might have been about as good as Barton, but there's no reason to think he would be better.

Moot point anyway, as neither are nor ever were anywhere near as good as Brandon Moss has become.
   4. Dan Lee is some pumkins Posted: June 10, 2014 at 09:35 AM (#4722383)
It's tough to make a definitive judgment based on 105 AB. Doolittle's production was inferior to Barton's career AAA production, but it was at age 22. At 22, Barton was hitting .226/.327/.348 for Oakland. Doolittle's zMLE for that shortened age 22 season is .241/.322/.417.

I guess my point was that Doolittle was a guy who absolutely had a chance to be an everyday MLB player, particularly in an organization that's been consistently and notoriously awful at 1B for the better part of a decade. Most position players who become pitchers are guys who convert because it's the only way they can continue to get paid to play baseball.
   5. jacksone (AKA It's OK...) Posted: June 10, 2014 at 09:37 AM (#4722385)
Moot point anyway, as neither are nor ever were anywhere near as good as Brandon Moss has become.


In 994 games over 10 years in the minors from 18-28 Moss hit at a .283/.355/.474 rate. I don't see any reason Barton or Doolittle couldn't develop like Moss did.
   6. PASTE Thinks This Trout Kid Might Be OK (Zeth) Posted: June 10, 2014 at 09:38 AM (#4722388)
Most position players who become pitchers are guys who convert because it's the only way they can continue to get paid to play baseball.


Doolittle converted once it became clear that he was never going to be able to stay healthy enough to play every day.
   7. Dan Lee is some pumkins Posted: June 10, 2014 at 09:44 AM (#4722392)
Fair enough. He could have tried to do a Nick Johnson/Grady Sizemore thing and get paid to rehab for years on end, but I guess that works better when you're an established MLBer.
   8. Russ Posted: June 10, 2014 at 10:22 AM (#4722433)
What I love about the A's here is the aggressiveness. With Doolittle's age, if you're going to turn him into something, it has to happen over a very short time frame. As soon as he looks even serviceably jump to the next level, you have to do it. The Pirates, in particular, are (IMO) overly cautious with players... this kind of aggressiveness rarely works out poorly and really allows you the chance to take advantage of a player's upside.

   9. richkraetsch Posted: June 10, 2014 at 10:32 AM (#4722442)
I also find it fascinating he came up at a 1B, then converted to pitcher. That seems so out of the ordinary as you wouldn't assume a 1B has a good arm so instead most of the position player converts either come from the corner OF or catcher ranks.
   10. PASTE Thinks This Trout Kid Might Be OK (Zeth) Posted: June 10, 2014 at 10:51 AM (#4722461)
What I love about the A's here is the aggressiveness. With Doolittle's age, if you're going to turn him into something, it has to happen over a very short time frame. As soon as he looks even serviceably jump to the next level, you have to do it. The Pirates, in particular, are (IMO) overly cautious with players... this kind of aggressiveness rarely works out poorly and really allows you the chance to take advantage of a player's upside.


I think this is much more true of pitchers than position players.
   11. AROM Posted: June 10, 2014 at 10:53 AM (#4722466)
In 994 games over 10 years in the minors from 18-28 Moss hit at a .283/.355/.474 rate. I don't see any reason Barton or Doolittle couldn't develop like Moss did.


Sure, it could happen, but how many guys who hit like that in minor league parks turn into real MLB sluggers? One in 100? One in 1000? Especially consider that Doolittle was in good hitting environments.

I'm sure you can find guys who hit 355/474 or so as 19 year olds getting their first taste of full season ball, go on to rake in the higher levels of the minors, and become real sluggers. Getting Moss type production out of a guy who is merely a good AAA hitter (.800-.900 range OPS) at 27 has very few precedents. It's very rare to get that kind of production out of 25-30 year olds who OPS 1.000 or better in AAA, and every year we see a few Ken Phelps wannabees doing that.
   12. ajnrules Posted: June 10, 2014 at 10:57 AM (#4722471)
Of course Joe Lemire would be writing about Sean Doolittle. I bet he had flashbacks to his days with the Cavalier Daily.

Fun Fact: When Sean Doolittle was a first year at UVA, his roommate was Brandon Guyer.
   13. PASTE Thinks This Trout Kid Might Be OK (Zeth) Posted: June 10, 2014 at 11:03 AM (#4722476)
It's not like we're having something unwelcome shoved down our throat, though. Doolittle is a legitimately cool story (and seems like a cool guy, to boot). I thought it was a reasonably well written piece.
   14. Dock Ellis on Acid Posted: June 10, 2014 at 11:08 AM (#4722478)
A dude in my fantasy league has a sister or cousin who dates Sean Doolittle. We have a private facebook page for the league and sometimes he will repost pictures the girlfriend has taken of Sean sleeping with many Q-Tips and toothpicks sticking out of his big red beard. That's the extent of what I can contribute to a conversation about Sean Doolittle.
   15. richkraetsch Posted: June 10, 2014 at 11:20 AM (#4722483)
A dude in my fantasy league has a sister or cousin who dates Sean Doolittle. We have a private facebook page for the league and sometimes he will repost pictures the girlfriend has taken of Sean sleeping with many Q-Tips and toothpicks sticking out of his big red beard. That's the extent of what I can contribute to a conversation about Sean Doolittle.


Hey, it's a solid contribution nonetheless.
   16. Danny Posted: June 10, 2014 at 11:24 AM (#4722488)
I remember being mildly pissed when the A's dropped Adrian Cardenas, in part, to keep Doolittle on the 40-man roster the year before his conversion to the mound.

Even when he was racing up through the minors in 2012, I was still skeptical he'd be able to contribute much. I guess I've been conditioned to not be impressed by minor league relievers.

The A's have a guy right now, 2012 23rd rounder Tucker Healy, who is putting up ridiculous numbers in A+/AA. Here's how Healy and Doolittle fared in Stockton/Midland:

Doolittle: 21.1 IP, 7 H, 40 K, 6 BB, 0 HR, .327 OPS, 0.84 ERA
Healy: 29.1 IP, 18 H, 48 K, 8 BB, 1 HR, .465 OPS, 0.92 ERA

Is Healy a real prospect, or his he another Shawn Kohn? Do the hit rates separate him from Doolittle or a Cam Bedrosian? The velocity?
   17. Shooty Is Disappointed With His Midstream Urine Posted: June 10, 2014 at 11:30 AM (#4722494)
I was never excited about Doolittle as a 1b prospect and remember being shocked that he'd made the club as a pitcher and that we was actually good. The A's first round pick this year could end up taking the Doolittle path to the Bigs. An iffy bat at third base but he's been clocked at 98 mph as a pitcher.
   18. Johnny Sycophant-Laden Fora Posted: June 10, 2014 at 11:56 AM (#4722523)
I don't see any reason Barton or Doolittle couldn't develop like Moss did.


Because Moss is an outlier, his late development was very unusual (or what AROM said).

Neither Barton or Doolittle hit as well in AAA as Kila Ka'aihue, or Chris Carter (either of them)
   19. Danny Posted: June 10, 2014 at 12:20 PM (#4722533)
Neither Barton or Doolittle hit as well in AAA as Kila Ka'aihue, or Chris Carter (either of them)

Barton was putting up an .800 OPS in AAA at age 20, when Carter and Kila were still in A ball. And Barton had 1500 major league PA with a 110 OPS+ through age 24. There was a lot of reason to think he'd develop better than Kila or Carter (and especially Doolittle)--though nothing close to what Moss has become, of course.

Doolittle had a huge spring training in 2009, and there was word he was close to making the team either to start the year or soon thereafter.
   20. AROM Posted: June 10, 2014 at 12:23 PM (#4722535)
It makes you wonder about the state of pitcher development. Doolittle moved to the mound, showed he had a great fastball, great command of it, not much else, and no experience. That combination was more than enough to get major leaguers out.

What if he had pitched from day 1 of his pro career? Would he have made it up sooner? Would he be the same pitcher he is today? Would he be another patient of Dr. Andrews?

Don't have any answers, it's tough when you have no control sample. But it makes you think. Pitchers spend their developing years trying to show off in hopes of making the HS team, getting drafted, getting a college scholarship, getting promoted, etc. Maybe some would be better off just not pitching.

Also makes me wonder for the future of Kaleb Cowart, Angel's #1 pick a few years ago. On draft day it was said that many teams preferred him on the mound. Cowart wanted to play every day, and Angels obliged in order to sign him. He had a fine season in A/A+ in 2012, looked like a 3B who could do a little bit of everything. Had a really rough 2013 in AA, and so far no better while repeating the level.
   21. Crispix reaches boiling point with lackluster play Posted: June 10, 2014 at 12:40 PM (#4722545)
The A's first round pick this year could end up taking the Doolittle path to the Bigs. An iffy bat at third base but he's been clocked at 98 mph as a pitcher.

Also the John Van Benschoten path to the Bigs.
   22. Johnny Sycophant-Laden Fora Posted: June 10, 2014 at 01:09 PM (#4722572)
There was a lot of reason to think he'd develop better than Kila or Carter (and especially Doolittle


Why?
I'm not sure anyone has figured out who will "develop" and who won't. Some (most) guys are better at 27 than they were at 20, some are not- I don't think how advanced you are at 20 has anything to do with it.

Barton at 20 hit .259/.389/.395 in AAA
Carter (the younger one) hit .291/.383/.522 in low A at 20

at 21 Barton hit .293/.389/.438 in AAA
at 21 Carter hit .259/.361/.569 in the Calif league

at 22 Barton hit .226/.327/.348 in the Majors
at 22 Carter hit .337/.435/.576 in the Texas league

What do I take away from that?
1: The organization liked Barton more, he was aggressively promoted, Carter was not
2: It was Carter NOT Barton who was developing- Barton was losing ground each promotion, Carter was not, just the opposite.

Barton now has an MLB OPS+ of 99, he peaked at 120 one year- because he walked 110 times.
but he hit .316/.410/.491 in AA at age 19, he never developed after that, that mle was about a 99/100 OPS+ his 120 "career" year is just random fluctuation above that.

At 19 you'd expect Barton to have a better career than Carter at 19 simply because Barton was better than Carter at 19- but its really a crapshoot who will improve (develop) and by how much.

   23. steagles Posted: June 10, 2014 at 01:20 PM (#4722582)
sean doolittle was a pitcher in college. well, he was a two-way player.

as a sophomore at virginia, he had 108 Ks, 21 BBs and a 2.38 ERA in 90 IP as a pitcher with a .324/.454/.458 line as a hitter in 200+ ABs. over his 3 years, he hit 22 HRs and allowed 9. baseballcube


this wasn't some random shot in the dark by the As, he was a legit prospect as a pitcher.
   24. Johnny Sycophant-Laden Fora Posted: June 10, 2014 at 01:21 PM (#4722585)
What if he had pitched from day 1 of his pro career? Would he have made it up sooner? Would he be the same pitcher he is today? Would he be another patient of Dr. Andrews?


I think the questions should be:

What if he had pitched from day 1 of Little League?

What if he had pitched from day 1 of Middle School?

What if he had pitched from day 1 of High School?

I'm going back a long way, but my little league coach (an ex-minor league pitcher*) claimed that literally all major league pitchers were converted position players... his claim was that of you pitched in organized games before you could drink (drinking age was 18 back then) you were sooner or later gonna try to throw a curveball or something besides a fastball, and hurt yourself. He claimed that very High School in the country had a trophy for some 16 year old who threw a no-hitter or k'd 15 batters one game... and that 16 year old never went on to pitch in the pros, but the SS behind him would...

A bit of exageration there of course.

*Said he struck out Mantle in a spring training game one year (which he admitted was actually not such a great feat- but it seemed to impress people), trouble was an inning or two later threw a curve felt a "pop" and could never throw worth a damn after that. He admitted he wasn't going to make the MLB anyway, playing against MLBers in Florida was as close as he was ever gonna get.
   25. AROM Posted: June 10, 2014 at 01:48 PM (#4722594)
I'm going back a long way, but my little league coach (an ex-minor league pitcher*) claimed that literally all major league pitchers were converted position players...


Definitely not true. Pick pretty much any MLB pitcher drafted in the top 100 during the information age, go back to Baseball America's archives and you'll find his high school or college pitching stats.

Probably true that just about all MLB pitchers were 2 way players in high school. Best athletes on the team, probably hit cleanup and played short or center when not pitching. A few exceptions. I remember reading that Tim Lincecum was DH'd for in high school. He actually had to learn to hit at the MLB level (though he did go 2 for 6 while at Fresno).
   26. AROM Posted: June 10, 2014 at 01:51 PM (#4722600)
What if he had pitched from day 1 of Little League?

What if he had pitched from day 1 of Middle School?

What if he had pitched from day 1 of High School?


In Doolittle's case I'm pretty sure he did pitch at those ages, and definitely pitched in college. He got about a 5 year break when he went into pro ball. Did that break help him? Probably didn't hurt him, hard to see how much better he could be. I guess he could have 43 strikeouts and no walks instead of his current line.
   27. Accent Shallow Posted: June 10, 2014 at 02:03 PM (#4722609)
I also find it fascinating he came up at a 1B, then converted to pitcher. That seems so out of the ordinary as you wouldn't assume a 1B has a good arm so instead most of the position player converts either come from the corner OF or catcher ranks.

You'd think, but since he's left-handed, he's either going to be an OF or a 1B, anyway. Maybe he can't run?
   28. Danny Posted: June 10, 2014 at 02:05 PM (#4722612)
Yes, if you chop off Barton's most impressive seasons (ages 19 and 23-24) and ignore differences in league contexts, then Carter looks like he was developing beyond Barton.

Here are the zMLEs for the ages we have them for both Barton and Carter:

Age    Barton           Carter
20 .252
/.350/.368  .233/.297/.404
21 .263
/.345/.383  .205/.281/.365 

Does that look like Carter gaining ground with each promotion and Barton doing the opposite?

Here are their ZIPS projections by age:

Age     Barton          Carter
21  .263
/.355/.408  .219/.289/.396
22  .280
/.369/.440  .219/.284/.403
23  .244
/.332/.378  .233/.311/.394
24  .268
/.363/.425  .229/.314/.427
25  .258
/.369/.400  .224/.302/.398 

Both of their talent levels stagnated, but Barton's talent level was far above Carter's. You never know how well players will develop, but I still think there was good reason to think Barton had a brighter future than Carter.
   29. Lance Reddick! Lance him! Posted: June 10, 2014 at 02:08 PM (#4722617)
Also makes me wonder for the future of Kaleb Cowart, Angel's #1 pick a few years ago. On draft day it was said that many teams preferred him on the mound. Cowart wanted to play every day, and Angels obliged in order to sign him. He had a fine season in A/A+ in 2012, looked like a 3B who could do a little bit of everything. Had a really rough 2013 in AA, and so far no better while repeating the level.

Anybody whose talents could go either way should probably take that path, because failed position players can always fall back on pitching, while failed pitchers fall back to dad's used car lot.
   30. AROM Posted: June 10, 2014 at 02:29 PM (#4722640)
Or become Rick Ankiel.
   31. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Griffin (Vlad) Posted: June 10, 2014 at 03:50 PM (#4722719)
I remember being mildly pissed when the A's dropped Adrian Cardenas, in part, to keep Doolittle on the 40-man roster the year before his conversion to the mound.


I was kind of surprised to see Cardenas drop off the map like that. It seems like he retired after 2012, because he didn't enjoy the game anymore, and he started taking classes at NYU.

Is Healy a real prospect, or his he another Shawn Kohn? Do the hit rates separate him from Doolittle or a Cam Bedrosian? The velocity?


I think the velocity has to play a pretty big role there, since Healy can get to the mid-90s and Kohn was sitting around 85.
   32. Johnny Sycophant-Laden Fora Posted: June 10, 2014 at 04:46 PM (#4722782)
Yes, if you chop off Barton's most impressive seasons (ages 19 and 23-24) and ignore differences in league contexts, then Carter looks like he was developing beyond Barton.

1: Never said "beyond" I said Carter was developing whereas Barton wasn't- but anyway I note that Carter currently has a 6 point MLB OPS+ advantage on Barton, plus Carter's career AAA OPS is 40 points higher than Barton, since we all agree that Barton was better when a teenager, at some point it seems that Carter at least caught up to Barton- which implies that he developed more.
Anyway, here's Barton's minor league progression:

Age 17, Rookie Ball, he hit .294/.420/.424, league was .257/.333/.368, that gives him a tasty OPS+ of 141
age 18, A ball, 170 OPS+ in 393 PAs
age 19, A+, 126 in 361 PAs
age 19, AA, 142 in 249 PAs
age 20, AAA, 109 in 180 PAs
age 21, AAA, 113 in 604 PAs
age 23, AAA, 125 in 313 PAs (also hit 108 in 192 MLB PAs)
age 26, AAA, 118 in 336 PAs
age 27, AAA, 125 in 488 PAs

That's lot of AAA time, and it's consistent with his 99 MLB OPS+
and that says to me that he hasn't developed one iota since he was 19- sure he had a 120 OPS+ spike in Oakland one year.
Carter at 18 had a 126 OPS+ in Rookie Ball
age 19, 160 in Rookie Ball
age 20, 145 in A ball
age 21, 144 in A+
age 22, 175 in AA (Barton was putting up an 85 in the MLB)
age 23, 127 in AAA
age 24, 120 in AAA (Barton put up a 120 in the MLB- his high water mark)

Different leagues/ages makes direct 1:1 comparison iffy, but
Barton was better at 18
Barton was better at age 19
Carter had a better year at age 20 (Barton missed a lot of time)
Barton likely wins age 21 by virtue of hitting .347/.429/.639 in his 84 PA MLN cup of coffee
Carter was better at age 22 (yes, Barton was in the majors, but hitting an anemic 85)
They were roughly even at age 23, Barton has a slight edge
Barton had a clearly better age 24 season- a year that in 20/20 hindsight was a spike, a random outlier


I'm not saying that Carter is all that (he's not, he's a deeply flawed hitter) What I'm saying is that Barton was overrated from almost the get go, promoted too quickly and despite signs that he was having trouble adjusting to higher leagues promoted again.

He somehow managed 2010 (and Erstad 2000), but outside of that 1 year he has 1400 other MLB PAs, and 2000 AAA PAs that all say, "meh" 95 OPS+ caliber hitter...

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