At the beginning of the 2012 season, very few baseball fans would recognize the name Ernesto Frieri. Fewer would be able to tell you what team he pitched for. In hindsight, this makes little sense. Between 2009 and 2011, Frieri was 2-3 with a 2.33 ERA, striking out over 11 batters per 9 innings and walking a shade under 5. Frieri is capable of throwing his fastball in the mid 90s, and given his dominance it’s a shock he wasn’t a household name.
And yet, when Ernesto Frieri was traded to the Los Angeles Angels, few thought it would have a significant impact. We’re just 23 1/3 innings into Frieri’s career as an Angel, but he’s yet to allow a run.
This brings up an important issue – relievers who don’t get the almighty save statistic are generally undervalued. Frieri is no better now than he was entering the 2012 season, and yet he’s considered one of the more dominant closers of the 2012 season. It’s clear that teams would be better off finding relievers like this as opposed to spending millions of dollars in the free agent market. So let’s take a look at another reliever who, like Frieri, may not be a closer now, but has the ability to step up and potentially pitch like a dominant closer.
Selected with the 41st overall pick in the 2007 draft, Sean Doolittle was expected to be a tremendous hitter. And he did have a solid career in the minors, putting up a 272/354/449 line. That’s solid production, but injuries preventing him for reaching his potential with the bat. So the Oakland Athletics asked him to try his hand at pitching towards the end of the 2011 season. The left hander always had a strong arm, but he exceeded even their wildest expectations. Their only regret must be that they didn’t ask him to pitch sooner, as he struck out over 17 batters per 9 innings while walking just under 3.
Even the best pitching prospects in the game can’t put up those video game type numbers. Sean Doolittle did that without any prior professional pitching experience. 10 innings into his major league career, and he’s 1-0 with a 3.48 ERA, striking out 18 and walking 2 in 10 1/3 innings. It’s nothing short of remarkable how dominant he’s been this year.
And I haven’t even mentioned that his fastball averages 94 MPH. He does throw an occasional curveball, but the key here is how dominant Doolittle’s fastball is. The Athletics aren’t likely to trade him anytime soon, but given Doolittle’s dominance of the minor leagues, it’s likely that he’ll be a dominant closer just like Ernesto Frieri. It’s only a matter of time before he forces the Athletics to make him their closer. While lefties aren’t often used in a closing role, Doolittle has to be considered the exception. He’s got outstanding command and killer stuff for a rookie, and the scary thing is he’s only going to get better once he gains more experience pitching.
So keep an eye on Sean Doolittle, because he’s got a very good chance of being the next Ernesto Frieri.