The Cincinnati Reds have signed left-handed reliever Sean Doolittle to a 1-year contract for $1,500,000. C. Trent Rosecrans of The Athletic was the first to report that the deal was close to happening. Jon Morosi of MLB Network was the first to report that the deal was completed as well as the amount.

The 2020 season was not a good one for Sean Doolittle. The lefty missed most of the season and threw just 7.2 innings, allowing five earned runs (5.87 ERA). In 2019, though, he was an above-average reliever. It was still the worst season of his career as he posted a 4.05 ERA (111 ERA+) in 60.0 innings with 29 saves, 15 walks, and 66 strikeouts. In the previous seven seasons between his time with the Oakland Athletics and Washington Nationals he posted a 2.83 ERA (143 ERA+) in 328.0 innings, allowed just 231 hits, 61 walks, and he had 391 strikeouts.

There is a concerning thing that happened in 2020 for Sean Doolittle – his velocity dropped off in a big way. And it followed a smaller trend over the previous four years, too. In 2016 he averaged 95.6 MPH on his fastball. Since then it’s been 95.0, 94.4, 93.8, and then last year it fell to 90.8. During the early part of the year he was dealing with a knee injury. When he came back, his velocity was up a little bit, averaging 91.3, but he didn’t pitch long before an oblique injury cost him the final three weeks of the season.

More velocity is better velocity no matter how many times someone wants to scream some pitchers name who “didn’t throw hard”. If Doolittle’s injuries are what led to the big decline in velocity and he’s now healthy, hopefully he can get back into the 92-94 range and touching higher.

In the past, Sean Doolittle has been very good. He’s missed bats and he’s had extremely low walk rates – he’s walked 1.8 batters per 9-innings pitched in his career. And for the most part, he’s kept the baseball in the ballpark. That comes with the caveat, though, that he’s pitched his home games in parks that don’t help home runs, and as everyone knows that doesn’t apply to Cincinnati’s Great American Ballpark.

One other thing that Sean Doolittle has done very well in his career is have a low batting average on balls in play against. Batters have a .270 career BABIP against him – one reason he’s consistently outperformed his FIP and xFIP numbers, which attempt to normalize BABIP to a league average number (roughly .300).

As a left-handed pitcher, you’d expect that Sean Doolittle handles left-handed hitters well. That’s a correct assumption. In his career he’s held lefties to a .187/.225/.311 line. But he’s also been really good against right-handed hitters for his career, too, as they own a .218/.263/.354 line against him. While that’s a lot better than the line from lefties, it’s a .617 OPS. With that said, it should be pointed out that in 2019 that right-handed hitters did hit .279/.339/.485 against him.

Everything, however, isn’t just sunshine and roses. As noted, the velocity drop has been happening for years, and in 2020 it was huge. Sean Doolittle is also an extreme fly ball pitcher. Fly balls in Great American Ballpark is usually a bad thing.

That doesn’t mean it has to be, though. Tyler Mahle’s ground ball rate was 29.3% in 2020 and he posted a 3.59 ERA. Dan Straily’s 32% ground ball rate in 2016 resulted in a 3.76 ERA. Trevor Bauer’s ERA last year was 1.73 with a 34.4% ground ball rate. It’s almost a guarantee that the home run rate will go up for Sean Doolittle. The key will be doing what he’s been able to do in the past – walk almost no one, and limit the number of hits he allows (by racking up strikeouts and continuing to have a lower than average BABIP).

We do know is that in the past, Sean Doolittle has been a very, very good reliever. We also know that there are some reasons right now to believe he’s not the same guy today as he was when he was among the best relievers in the game. That’s probably not who the Reds are expecting (though, they are certainly hoping he can be that). The pitcher that Doolittle was in 2019 seems a bit more reasonable as a guy to expect – a good, but not elite reliever.

Sean Doolittle Projections for 2021

ZiPS projects Sean Doolittle for a 3.77 ERA in 2021. PECOTA, which was just released yesterday at Baseball Prospectus projects Doolittle to post a 3.24 ERA. The main difference between the two projections is the BABIP – ZiPS has a .304 projected BABIP for the lefty, while PECOTA has it at .257 on the year. For his career, his BABIP is .270, but he’s been below that number in five different seasons in his career (with a low of .196 in 2018).

67 Responses

  1. Jimbo44CN

    Hmm, I don’t know. Could be good, could be bad. Betting they did not have to give much for him though.

    • Tito4rumTJ

      My opinion good signing for the REDS has more upside even if he lost a bit of his velocity… could be their top reliever or set up man Reactiooon!!!

  2. Sliotar

    Good grief.

    Glad SS is fixed, so Reds could get on to signing declining age 35 guy.

    IF Doolittle is getting league minimum for 1 year (highly doubtful) … OK, sure.
    Otherwise … woof.

    Remember when Raisel Iglesias seemed to give up HRs a lot, especially in GABP?

    HR/9 in 2019 (FanGraphs)
    Iglesias – 1.61
    Doolittle – 1.65 (playing home games in DC)

    29 other teams had all winter to sign him. Wonder why they passed.

    • Doug Gray

      Sean Doolittle was above-average in 2019. And he had 7 bad innings in 2020. It seems like it’s a bit much to say he’s had two bad seasons in a row.

      Want to say he’s got some concerns on his resume for 2021? Fine – I talked about some of those in the article, and they are clearly there. But his 2019 wasn’t bad, and calling his 2020 season a “bad season” is a bit much given that it was less than one full games worth of innings.

    • CI3J

      Doug, if you look at Doolittle’s stats for 2019, they are almost universally bad across the board for a reliever. 4.25 FIP. 1.30 WHIP. 9.5 HR/9. I’m actually curious how he wound up with a 111 ERA+ given his poor overall stats. As you said, it was the worst season of his career.

      Regardless, Doolittle is entering his age 34 season, and will turn 35 before it’s over. He is trending in the wrong direction. Yes, it’s true calling 2020 a bad season based on small sample size is cheating a bit, but I wasn’t just alluding to his numbers, I was alluding to the fact he looked terrible. He had two injuries last year, and as we all know, once you hit your mid-30’s, you don’t bounce back from injuries like you used to.

      I’m of course hoping he can be good for the Reds, but I think at this point the best we can hope for, given the aging curve, injuries, and general trend, is about an average reliever at best, but I think below-average is much more likely, given the information we have.

      • Doug Gray

        Universally bad? In 2019 the league average reliever FIP was 4.51. So he was actually good in this stat that doesn’t actually matter because it’s not what happened. His ERA was 4.05, and the league average for a reliever was 4.46. So he was good here, too, and it’s also why his ERA+ was 111, because he was actually better than average. I’ll assume you meant a 9.5 K/9 instead of HR/9, which was better than the league average of 9.3 for a reliever. His 1.30 WHIP was better than the league average reliever WHIP of 1.36.

        It seems the confusion here is that you misunderstood the baseline of what the average reliever was in baseball.

    • CI3J

      Apparently so. Here’s an interesting article which points out that starters are now actually outperforming relief pitchers in terms of ERA:

      I guess I missed the shift over the last 5 years where bullpens became gas cans instead of shutdown relief. So I guess in that regard, Doolittle is doing pretty good.

      All that said, I still don’t like the signing for the reasons I listed. Given the information we have, I still fully expect Doolittle to be, at best, an average pitcher for the Reds. But I guess we’ll see.

  3. Stock

    1. Doolittles career ERA is 3.07 and his career FIP is 2.79. He has actually underperformed his FIP not over performed as stated.
    2. Strailey’s GB% was 32.0% not his FB%
    3. Mahle’s GB% was 29.3% not his FB%
    4. Bauer’s GB% was 34.4% not his FB%

    • Doug Gray

      I said he’s consistently outperformed his FIP, which is mostly correct. His ERA has beaten his FIP in four of the last five seasons. I’m leaving that one up.

      And yes, need to go correct the GB/FB thing, because I’m a dolt.

      • Justin

        I’d rather you bust out an article with a few errors than wait until it’s perfect. I need stuff to read!

        Plus you always own and fix errors, I respect that. Thanks Doug!

  4. JayTheRed

    I am ok with this signing. I remember this guy being decent. I didn’t say great but at any point his numbers versus lefties seem pretty good. I am ok with this signing we needed more bullpen help and if the guy has a nice comeback year bonus for us.

    As far as money goes it’s not our money so why complain about how much he is being paid. I would assume it would be under 1.5 million if I had to guess though.

    • JayTheRed

      Woot I was right on the 1.5 million… Just seemed to make sense for both sides at that price.

    • TR#1

      My guess is $2-2.5 million. Any more that that, then the front office screwed up by not keeping Bradley.

  5. RedBaron

    Worth the gamble for $4M or less. Anything more and it’s too risky IMO. He really hasn’t been good since 2018.

  6. Tom Mitsoff

    Seems like a good risk to take. Clearly, Doolittle is accepting a very low-tier money offer, because that’s all the Reds would be offering. Perhaps this is a sign that veteran pitchers may choose Cincinnati because of the unique coaching techniques offered by the organization. I say that because it’s doubtful the Reds made the top offer.

    Also, we’re going to learn Nick Krall’s administrative talent for finding baseball talent with no budget to work with. The overall payroll is in the top 50 percent, but the budget for new spending is next to none. If he comes out of this with some new players who are solid contributors, you will have to tip your hat to him for making the best of what he had to work with.

  7. Matt WI

    I hope Amir Garret is thinking “good, now they have a lefty guy for the 7th or 8th to replace me, and I’m going in to close.” Garrett for Closer! (Assuming there has to be one).

    • Rut

      My bet is Doolittle took a bit less to sign here so that he would have a chance to be the closer. Makes the most sense, and he does have experience…

      Whether he can perform well enough to earn that role is another issue entirely

    • JayTheRed

      Matt, I am with you I really want to see if Garret can do the closer job well. He sure has the mentality to do it.

  8. John C.

    Glad to see some intelligent responses. It has become so tiring hearing the same complaints over and over. The Reds don’t sign anyone and people complain. The Reds sign someone and people complain. Lets just see what happens.

    • Kim Henry

      THANK YOU. We all have opinions but to be so negative as so many are is discouraging. GO REDS 🙂

  9. Tired Red Fan

    Well, signing a guy whose velocity has been systematically lower for the past 3 seasons, plus being injury prone tells a lot about the state of our relief corps and the front office current philosophy. Our main gap is still SS, and it seems that Farmer may be the guy to get the spot as no signs of a serious replacement via trade or free agency is at sight, at least until now.

  10. HoF13

    I can now confidently say that this off season is not about the Reds doing nothing — it is, instead, that the Reds … Doolittle.

      • SteveLV

        That was supposed to be a thumbs up. Not sure what I did to turn it into a question mark.

      • Doug Gray

        I’m just guessing that emojis typed on a phone don’t work as comments, and they default to a question mark.

    • Greenfield Red

      In the past three days, the Reds have signed Place Holder and Doo Little. Makes me wonder who they will sign next. Meedy Oker?

  11. 2020ball

    SInce it seems the Reds can do little in free agency, they decided to do more with their bullpen.

    • west larry

      Agreed. At 1.5 million, I’m good with this signing.

  12. enfueago

    So long as the money is reasonable this seems like a reasonable move. This is even more true if the pitching gurus are on board given they seem to know what they are doing beyond just looking at recent stats. One caveat: They can’t afford to run him out there simply based on what he did in Washington. If his stuff isn’t there in the spring then move on.

  13. Tom Mitsoff

    Jon Morosi reports the contract is $1.5M for one year.

    • docproc

      Plus performance bonuses.
      That’s a reasonable contract.

  14. Redsvol

    This is a very good signing. 1st- he’s a lefty and the whole organization lacks them, 2nd – his track record is good, and 3rd, most of the fans dislike the signing so it will probably turn out to be a great one!

  15. Roger Garrett

    Bargain hunting is what the Reds do and hope they get lucky.He could have a few good outings and of course he will have a few not so good outings.No problem with this cause he is a reliever.

  16. Scott C.

    Hope is usually not a good strategy for success.

    • Roger Garrett

      Your right Scott about hope but thats what the Reds do just as last year with bringing in Moose,Big Nick and Shogo.That hope cost over 30 million for those 3 guys if they got the full amount last year and they are all back again along with the same hope.Doolittles deal for one year at 1.5 million is a one year deal even if he returns to somewhere close to where he was.He is gone regardless in 2022.Got to beleive no other team wanted him because pitchers trying to get back on track don’t chose GABP to do it in.We shall see.

      • JayTheRed

        Something to think about Castellanos has only this coming season to possibly prove himself again otherwise he is out of opt outs. I think he is going to do everything thing he can to have a strong season so he can opt out if he wants to and get paid someplace else.

  17. Justin

    $1.5 million. Sounds like a good deal to me but to Bob that’s a lot of bananas.

    • TR#1

      Now we have enough left to pay Doctor Strange-Gordon another 1.5 million. Yay!!!

  18. RedsGettingBetter

    IMO this is a good sign because it’s a low-risk contract for a pitcher who has a attractive numbers until 2019. However, i remember the past season signing of Pedro Strop, i expect that history will not repeat.

  19. TR

    Still some question marks regarding shortstop, but the front office seems to be moving ahead with the bullpen.

  20. Glenn Allen

    It appears that Sean Doolittle trained at Driveline this off season.

    As he faces the unknowns of his future, Doolittle wants to put himself in the best position for success next year. To do so, he’s changing up his usual offseason plans of training in Chicago, where there is less access to facilities because of the pandemic, and is instead heading across the country to Driveline Baseball — a data-driven training center in Seattle. Doolittle wants to show clubs around the league “the best version” of himself, wherever that takes him next.

    “I want to be able to prove to teams that I’m healthy, that the version of me that came off the IL and started pitching better is who they might see in 2021,” he said. “I don’t want to just rest on my track record. I want to continue to try to improve and take the things that I learned going through that process and put them in practice and get ready for next season.”

      • RedsDownUnderer

        That’s dampens my optimism a bit. If he had been working with Boddy/driveline over the winter, then I think the Reds would have offered him a contract only on some solid evidence that he still has something. Without the kind of knowledge, it feels more of not unreasonable but still pretty uncertain hope.

      • Doug Gray

        People in baseball talk. I doubt there’s a team out there that didn’t know exactly what Doolittle was doing at that other facility.

  21. Kim Henry

    This has nothing to do about anything being discussed or even the Reds. Bare with me and if anyone knows why or exactly when it changed, please chip in. Been watching baseball since 60’s. I’ve also seen a lot of old clips of baseball of long ago. The first that comes to mind is Bob Gibson, but there were eras of the same style. As a little leaguer in the 60’s, I (and everyone else) copied the style. Pitchers used to use a wind up which appears to put more of your body into a pitch instead of your arm. I know todays coverage is greater and reveals even a blister on a pitcher’s finger so I’m sure many injuries were not publicized years ago. BUT…… seems like a majority of pitchers today use a simple windup which puts a lot of stress on your arm and seems like most all pitchers get injured at some point. ANYHOW…..does anyone KNOW WHY the style changed? I would love to see an old Gibson or Koufax windup in today’s game. ?????????????

    • Doc

      The mound was lowered 8” after Bob Gibson blew away the league. Probably a factor in changing stresses on the arm.

      Nolan Ryan’s book is an interesting read. He pitched with arm troubles that would shelve a guy for the season now.

      • Kim Henry

        Thanks and no doubt; the lowering of the mound contributed. Would still like to know why the overall change in delivery. It’s like EVERYONE used to have the big windup and almost over night, it went away. I’m sure there is an answer out there. If I find out, I will pass it on.

    • Jimbo44CN

      I am another old guy like you, watching those guys in the 60s as a kid. You are right, they all had big windups. I have often wondered the same thing about that and todays arm failure rate. Seems to me there could be some correlation. Used to be two distinct deliveries with a man on and nobody on. Today you can’t hardly tell the difference, and some pitchers it seems like it’s all arm with a man on, while trying to obtain the same velocity.

  22. Hotto4Votto

    Overall solid signing. Low risk as the price tag is low. I like adding another lefty who’s had success and does well against both sides. I like that he’s coming here to work with Boddy and company so he can get the velocity back up, seems like that process started over the offseason. If that happens hopefully he can get back to being the quality reliever he was, if not cut him loose. Unfortunately, when relievers lose it, it goes quick. Hopefully that’s not the case, 2020 was a throwaway season for so many reasons.

  23. Michael B. Green

    I thought we might add one more relief arm and there it is. Good that it is a LHRP too. The fact that he can close if necessary helps too. This was a very good contract that ties all of the value to performance.

    I still think there is a chance that we sign Villar (or acquire Gordon) and allow Garcia to mature at AA. Acquiring Adames or Rosario creates a significant roadblock for Garcia and I understand that CIN brass is convinced that Garcia’s glove will stick at SS. Thus, I don’t think it makes sense to acquire either of those talented SS (although I like both).

    Other than SS and some bullpen spot battles in Spring Training, I think the 40MR is pretty clear. When Solomon goes on the 60D DL on OD, that will create a 40MR spot for either another pitcher, Cuthbert or Davis.

    Here is what I like about the Doolittle signing the most; He has a ring. So does Moustakas. Having some players that were part of World Series championships tells me that CIN is still looking to win it.

  24. Kim Henry

    For anyone interested; and if you can believe half of what you find on the internet, the most common answer to “WHY PITCHERS DON’T WIND UP ANYMORE” is to simplify mechanics. The less movement and more consistent movement yields more consistency. One former pitcher, Frank Viola felt the big overhead windup did not ease pressure on the arm. So, there we have it. I still enjoy watching footage of the “old days” and maybe someday, someone will step away from the norm of today and provide us the joy of watching the BIG WINDUP.

    • DataDumpster

      This question is one of the more thoughtful and interesting in quite a while. I would guess that Kim’s answer is mostly right although that is just my speculation on how coaching has evolved. I would also guess that the unintended consequence of this shift is that the additional strain on pitcher’s arms led to the 100 pitch “rule.” How many guys can pitch 275 innings and 10 CGs per year anymore?
      I also find it interesting that batters have gone in the opposite direction. Whereas hitters like Aaron, Rose, Carew, Boggs, etc. relied a lot of arm strength, bat control, and quick wrists to find base hits and homers, today’s batters swing to the point of almost hitting the ground…and consequently miss everything in the process.

  25. Stoney

    Good signing. Doolittle has been solid over the years. Good lefty to bring in when needed. Not a project anyway.

  26. TheCoastMan

    I like it….. 1.5 Mil flyer on a high upside potential BP piece. Throw enough relief spaghetti against the wall and some of it will stick. IMHO, there is no reason to spend big bucks on the bullpen. That said, I wouldn’t have minded hanging on to Bradley for a year and I would have preferred holding out for a better package for Iglesias. But, hey it’s not my cash. As Brandon Phillips once noted, Big Bob might’ve had to come up with a new fruit to sell to keep those two.

  27. Hanawi

    As many have said, seems like a low-risk option and another lefty in the pen. I’m in for it. Not sure what to make of the season. Reds need some bounce back years from some of their hitters and hope the pitching can pick up from last year. Seems like the NL Central is winnable, even after the Arenado trade.

    Not sure what they’ll do at SS now. Villar seems like the best option to me unless Colorado is going to throw in a bunch of money to trade Story, which is highly unlikely. Or a trade of Gray/Suarez/Castillo for a long-term solution, which also seems unlikely at this point.

    • Buddman2006

      I did the mlb trade simulator and dealt Suarez and Senzel along with Garcia,Friedel and Richardson to the Rays for Adames and their 4th and 11th ranked prospect by my mlb app. With Adames to short I would move Moose to third and Brujan(#4 prospect) at second. This solidifies up the middle for years to come while also reducing payroll while increasing WAR by adding Adames and getting winkers bat in the lineup everyday. I know people won’t like that trade but it gets the ss along with a great prospect at second and adds to the minor league pitching depth(Ryan looks like he fits right in with Green and Lodolo). To bad the front office and the Rays especially won’t go for it.

      • Bob Purkey

        The Rays would never take on the commitment of the Suarez contract, regardless of how reasonable it is. They simply just don’t do these types of contracts.

  28. GreatRedLegsFan

    Let’s see what’s left in the tank. Another $1.5MM added to the payroll and still no signal of a SS…