The Impact of Sean Doolittle's Hiring on the Nationals

Fan favorite Sean Doolittle was hired as a pitching strategist for the Nationals, and his impact is already being seen.
Atlanta Braves v Washington Nationals
Atlanta Braves v Washington Nationals / G Fiume/GettyImages

In a flurry of offseason additions, the Nationals brought back a few names from the World Series team to be on the coaching staff this year. A couple of those names included Gerrado Parra, as he took over the first base coach role, and Sean Doolittle, as a "pitching strategist." While it is still very early into the young 2024 Major League Baseball season, the effects of Sean Doolittle's hiring may very well already be in effect.

Despite never having an elite offspeed/breaking pitch, Doolittle was able to establish himself as one of the top closers in baseball in his time with the Nationals. Doolittle made his career through a really good pitch - his high fastball. The left hander's fastball to played so well due to Sean's above average extension and fastball movement that looked like the pitch was rising at times. His fastball was so good that it registered a run value of +11 and +14 in 2017 and 2018, respectively. Now that Doolitle has begun his coaching career, he can share his knowledge to the younger generation around him, with one player already seeming to reap the benefits in MacKenzie Gore.

Gore, like Doolittle, is a left handed arm with an elite fastball. Gore's fastball has always been a "plus" pitch, as it was graded a 60/60 fastball throughout his time as a prospect. MacKenzie is able to create such a strong fastball for a couple reasons. His natural fastball velocity is already elite, as his four-seam fastball is averaging 96.8 mph so far in 2024, up significantly from his 95 mph average from a year ago. On top of the already elite natural velocity Gore's fastball has, his extension is 7.1 feet, putting him in the 92nd percentile of all of baseball. That extension helps a lot, as it can add a couple miles per hour in "perceived velocity," pushing Gore's fastball up to a perceived velocity in the upper 90s. So, as you have seen, Gore already has a really good fastball and is an extremely talented pitcher, so where has Sean Doolittle stepped in to help him grow?

A noticeable trend so far in 2024 has been where MacKenzie Gore has been locating his fastball, with an increased emphasis on throwing it at the upper-third of the zone. While his location can still be shaky at times, Gore's fastball has also benefited from better shape and movement. These increased trends have benefited Gore already, as his four-seam fastball K% is up at 36.4% this year, an insane increase from the 22.2 K% mark it was at last season. With that, Gore's heater has seen a 10% increase in whiff % and 8% decrease in hard hit %. All of these metrics highlight how much better Gore's heater has improved this year, and a lot of it can be attributed to the hiring of Sean Doolittle. Not only has his fastball gotten better results, but Gore's secondary pitches have all benefits from the better fastball shape. I mean, just look at this clip of Gore striking out the side with three separate pitches from his stellar start Sunday in Oakland.

Sean Doolittle is big on analytics, as they helped in jumping his fastball effectiveness. Now, Doolittle can bring in a window of analytics that was previously absent from the organization. MacKeznie Gore has said himself that pitching coach Jim Hickey is not big on analytics, something Doolittle's hiring was supposed to help with. Safe to say, Doolittle is already incorporating analytics in his pitching specialist role, and it is already making a big impact on the Nationals pitching staff.

As I am writing this article, Jake Irvin shut out the Los Angeles Dodgers lineup over six outstanding innings, highlighted by a more lively fastball which he is also utilizing up in the zone, similar to how Doolittle did throughout his career. Irvin's heater was averaging 95.7 mph today, a bump from his previous 94.2 mph average, while featuring increased vertical and horizontal break, generating 9 whiffs on 22 swings. If this trend is able to continue, Irvin could join Gore as the immediate beneficiaries of the Sean Doolittle hiring.

The MacKenzie Gore breakout is here folks, as he proves himself to be an ace-caliber pitcher. Doolittle's mentorship has helped move Gore in the right direction this season, as all of his pitches look to be improved from the year prior. It has been a joy to watch him already this season, a trend that hopefully continues under the mentorship of the wise Sean Doolittle.