Nationals

Quick Links

It’s not whether Sean Doolittle should have been in, it’s whether he should have come out

It’s not whether Sean Doolittle should have been in, it’s whether he should have come out

It’s the speed of the unraveling which is so alarming. The result alone -- ⅔ of an inning, four earned runs, soul-splitting loss -- would be damning enough for Sean Doolitle. But to not record an out before a three-run lead is gone? That’s a different breed of anguish.

The Mets put Doolittle in this spot Friday night. Their recent mojo in jeopardy with the Nationals’ closer on the mound, New York found a way to roar forward in a 7-6 win. Doolittle didn’t have it -- again -- in Citi Field. The Mets entered the game hitting .385 against him this season with a 1.025 OPS. Then J.D. Davis double. Wilson Ramos singled. Todd Frazier homered. Tie game. 

Five batters later, Michael Conforto’s single over the head of Adam Eaton -- a fly ball with a 70 percent catch probability -- landed in right field. The Mets stormed onto the field following their seventh consecutive win. Doolittle popped his cap up and looked down as he walked off the field.

Citi Field is home to ugliness for Doolittle this season. He was stunned May 22 when he allowed four runs and did not record an out. That was the second of three consecutive losses to New York in its final at-bat during a four-game sweep. The “dark times” as Doolittle referred to them once this season, back when April and May were working daily to sabotage August and September.

That night was the worst outing of Doolittle’s career. Friday carried its own disastrous weight because of the Mets’ recent run. They are cooking and believe the vibe to be authentic. Stephen Strasburg did plenty to stifle such thoughts with a seven-inning, good-enough performance in which he set the organization’s strikeout record while giving up three earned runs. He left with a 5-3 lead. That’s when Davey Martinez’s choices began.

Everyone in the bullpen had at least one day off. So, Washington is up two entering the eighth inning. Martinez picks Daniel Hudson to handle it. He does so adroitly. 

The Nationals tacked on a run in the ninth. Fernando Rodney warmed alongside Doolittle. Up four, maybe Rodney starts the inning. Up three, Doolittle is the easy choice, the Mets’ prior success against him notwithstanding. He’s the closer with a 2.81 ERA and two days of rest in his pocket. In he goes.

The question is if he should have stayed in. Multiple things for Martinez to consider there: psyche, who is coming up, who replaces him.

To the first. Removing the closer mid-inning is always a tenuous proposition. It’s a confidence bash and rarely happens. Blowing a save? Part of the game. Stow it, forget it, move on. Being taken out in the middle of ninth-inning chaos? Only in exceptional circumstances, and maybe not even then.

Left-handed Joe Panik followed Frazier’s home run. Should be an out. It’s a good matchup. Panik singled. At that point, it appeared clear Doolittle was reeling. Rodney was ready. All that mattered was keeping the game tied. 

Juan Lagares bunts, Anthony Rendon makes a nice play to cut down Panik at second. One out. Left-handed Jeff McNeil -- tied for second in the majors with a .336 average -- is next. Seemingly, this is a spot for Doolittle, who has held lefties to a .554 OPS this season. However, McNeil has almost even OPS splits and is hitting 40 points higher against left-handers. The calculus for Martinez is do I leave my struggling closer in to stay left-on-left, his strong suit, though it doesn’t matter to the batter and said closer is having a bad night. McNeil flies out. Two outs.

This could have been the spot for Rodney. Two outs, the winning run on base, a right-handed batter, Amed Rosario, who fairs much worse against right-handed pitching. But do you trust Rodney to fix this? Doolittle stays in. Rosario singles. 

That brings Conforto to the plate. He’s worse against left-handed pitching. Demonstrably so. Do splits matter at that point? Doolittle has thrown 21 pitches, few well-executed, and the game is flying on him. Conforto hits a fly ball over Eaton’s head. Game over.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Mets were 0-187 in games they trailed by three runs or more in the ninth since the last time they won such a game -- four years ago. Opponents were hitting just .179 against Doolittle, leading to a 1.68 ERA, since the All-Star break.

Which means Doolittle should have been in the game to win it, but probably should not have been left in to lose it.

MORE NATIONALS NEWS:

Quick Links

Reports: MLB owners approve deal on coronavirus-induced measures for 2020 season

Reports: MLB owners approve deal on coronavirus-induced measures for 2020 season

Major League Baseball’s team owners have reportedly voted to approve a labor agreement between the league and its players union that implements a series of measures designed to help baseball weather the coronavirus outbreak.

Several changes were reported Thursday evening before the owners ratified the agreement.

Among them were a transaction freeze, the assurance that players’ service time clocks would be unaffected by any suspension or cancellation of the season, a reduction in the number of rounds in the next two amateur drafts, a potential delay to the international signing period and the adjustment of arbitration rules to avoid penalizing players for lower counting stats during a shortened season.

More details emerged Friday as reporters collected information surrounding the deal.

- According to ESPN’s Jeff Passan, the 2020 season will not begin until three major thresholds are met: 1) The bans on mass gatherings in states with MLB clubs are lifted, unless MLB decides to host games at neutral sites or without fans instead. 2) There are no travel restrictions. 3) Health experts deem it safe for both teams and fans to attend games.

The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal reports that signing bonuses for players drafted over the next two years will not increase as was originally outlined in the current collective bargaining agreement. It’s a decision that agent Scott Boras has called “unconscionable.”

- Passan also added that MLB would consider running a combine for amateur players ahead of the next two drafts and that drug-related suspensions will be still served in 2020—but if the season is cancelled, then those suspensions would be waived.

- While not clear if part of the agreement itself, The Athletic’s Evan Drellich reported that the commissioner’s office has “an understanding with all 30 teams” that their non-player employees would be paid through April 30. A decision has not been made as to what will happen after that.

Commissioner Rob Manfred has stated that it’s unlikely MLB will be able to play a full 162-game season, but that both the league and its players hope to play as many games as possible—with ideas like scheduled double-headers and fewer off days on the table.

No firm date was given as to when MLB hopes to begin its season.

Stay connected to the Capitals and Wizards with the MyTeams app. Click here to download for comprehensive coverage of your teams.

MORE NATIONALS NEWS:

Quick Links

Juan Soto, Ronald Acuña are earning comparisons to MLB greats. What can we expect in Year Three?

Juan Soto, Ronald Acuña are earning comparisons to MLB greats. What can we expect in Year Three?

Juan Soto ventured into enemy territory last summer when his friend and contemporary Ronald Acuña emerged from the visitor’s dugout at Nationals Park and began to chirp at him.

The pair hit it off when together for the MLB All-Stars in Japan during the 2018 offseason. When they exist as rivals -- at least by the standard of being in the same division -- they still joke, hug and admire. Any comparison of the two will not be centered on vitriol. They’re having too much fun hammering baseballs in their early 20s.

Should the season restart, Soto and Acuña will start their third year in the National League East. It won’t be a full season. We already know that because of the current hiatus, but it may be enough to have another reputable look at next steps for each. And where they already are is comparable with any young duo in the history of the game.

Here are the totals from their first two years in the league:

Acuña: 67 home runs, 130 OPS-plus, 9.9 WAR.

Soto: 56 home runs, 140 OPS-plus, 7.4 WAR.

Acuña is 22 years old. He has a Rookie of the Year Award and fifth-place MVP finish on his ledger.

Soto is 21 years old. He finished second to Acuña in Rookie of the Year voting in 2018. He finished ninth in MVP voting last year.

Their mutual beginnings are so potent, a recent pairing to compare them to is Mike Trout and Bryce Harper.

Sounds ambitious. If not flatly hyperbolic. And, when it comes to Trout, it is.

He compiled 19.4 bWAR in his first two full seasons at age 20 and 21. That’s more than Acuña and Soto combined. Trout was intertwined in a who-is-the-best debate with Harper at that point. That discussion is long over.

Harper’s 8.9 bWAR the first two seasons (age 19 and 20, respectively) falls right in line with Acuña and Soto. He was essentially the average of the pair.

Let’s dial back to other young stars.

Mickey Mantle finished with 12.2 bWar across 1952 and 1953, when he was 20 and 21 years old, respectively. Willie Mays pulled together 14.4 bWar in 1951 and 1954 combined. Mays was 20 years old in his first full season. His 21-year-old season was abbreviated, and 22-year-old season non-existent because of military service. Hank Aaron compiled 7.6 bWAR in his first two years when playing in his age-20 and age-21 seasons for the Milwaukee Braves. And, just as a head-shaking aside, it’s always fun to point out Mays was a 24-time All-Star and Aaron a 25-time All-Star. Decent efforts on their part.

So, what came in Year 3 for everyone listed above?

Trout was named MVP after a 7.7 WAR season at age 22. Harper was hurt, then put together his best year, his MVP season in 2015 when 22 years old.

Mantle had a strong 6.9-WAR season when he was 22 years old.

Mays, then 24, went crazy his third full season in the majors: 51 homers, 13 triples, a 1.059 OPS, .659 slugging percentage, 79 walks and 60 strikeouts. Put it another way: Mays had more combined homers and triples than strikeouts in 1955 when he was 24 years old. And yet, he finished fourth -- fourth! -- in 1955 MVP balloting behind Roy Campanella, Duke Snider and Ernie Banks.

Aaron finished with a .923 OPS and 7.2 WAR in year three.

Soto and Acuña will be hard-pressed to reach similar WAR totals in a shortened season. However, they still have another decade for future comparisons and to keep chasing the ghosts of the greats.

Stay connected to the Capitals and Wizards with the MyTeams app. Click here to download for comprehensive coverage of your teams.

MORE NATIONALS NEWS: