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A's closer Sean Doolittle injured: fantasy impact

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What does the A's closing situation look like with Sean Doolittle injured?

Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

A's closer Sean Doolittle will miss the start of the 2015 season after suffering a slight tear in his throwing shoulder. Sussan Slusser wrote,

All-Star closer Sean Doolittle has a slight rotator-cuff tear in his left shoulder and will miss the start of the regular season, according to A’s assistant general manager David Forst.

Doolittle, 28, is not expected to need surgery. Forst said the orthopedists who have seen Doolittle believe that rest and a strengthening program will allow him to pitch without the need for any repairs. Forst said that the injury also could have been termed a shoulder strain and is typically something that is manageable.

Doolittle will be re-evaluated before beginning a rehab program, so there is no timetable for his return. The fact that Doolittle is a reliever will help him return more quickly once he gets back on the mound, because he will not need as many innings in a rehab assignment. The A’s will determine a fill-in closer during spring training, Forst said.

This is a significant blow to the A's bullpen. Doolittle is one of the best relievers in baseball. He owns a career FIP of 2.20 and his 1.71 FIP was sixth best among relievers in 2014.

Fantasy impact

Slusser reports that Doolittle's replacement candidates include All Star Tyler Clippard, who was acquired from the Washington Nationals last week, setup man and 2012 All Star Ryan Cook, and Eric O'Flaherty.

Clippard and Cook are the strongest bets here. Here's a look at their career statistics:

Table 1

Pitcher

ERA

ERA-

FIP

FIP-

xFIP

Clippard

2.88

72

3.64

92

3.91

Cook

2.77

72

3.01

78

3.69

Table 2

Pitcher

K%

BB%

SwStr%

GB%

FB%

Clippard

27.6%

10.0%

13.2%

29.1%

55.9%

Cook

24.7%

9.9%

10.9%

46.3%

35.4%

2014 statistics

Here’s the most recent sample on each pitcher:

Table 1

Pitcher

ERA

ERA-

FIP

FIP-

xFIP

Clippard

2.18

59

2.75

74

3.28

Cook

3.42

92

3.35

91

3.64

Table 2

Pitcher

K%

BB%

SwStr%

GB%

FB%

Clippard

29.5%

8.3%

13.9%

36.9%

49.4%

Cook

24.8%

10.9%

10.6%

45.2%

34.1%

The case for Clippard

Clippard is an extreme flyball pitcher who generates a lot of pop ups. Infield fly balls (IFFB) are basically strikeouts put into play, and Clippard has a career mark of 16.0%. League average IFFB rate is around 10%.

Playing in the Oakland Coliseum, flyball pitchers can thrive for two main reasons. Firstly, the outfield walls play pitcher friendly. Secondly, there is a lot of foul territory which makes it much easier to record outs on fly balls. Clippard’s skillset should translate well into the AL West, where Clippard’s team will play roughly 100 games in spacious, pitcher friendly ballparks (Oakland, Seattle and Anaheim).

Clippard also has the better recent sample, turning in a 2.75 FIP in 2014.

The case for Cook

Relievers are volatile and often fluctuate significantly in their results year to year, so the most recent yearly sample may not paint the most accurate picture of a reliever's skill set. Some of Cook’s career peripherals, particularly Fielding Independent Pitching, are better than Clippard’s. His career FIP is significantly better (3.01 to 3.64) and he generates significantly more ground balls and significantly less fly balls which will be valuable in hitter friendly road ballparks. He doesn’t miss quite as many bats as Clippard, but he still misses them at an above average rate.

Closing thoughts

It isn't clear who will get the majority of the closing opportunities with the A's just yet, but if I had to choose one today, I would roll with Clippard. The timeline of the Clippard acquisition and the Doolittle injury news suggests that the A's made this trade knowing that Doolittle would likely need a replacement to start the season.

I like the higher strikeout upside with Clippard, and he's in a great place to pitch with extreme flyball tendencies.