More than Derek Norris or Yoenis Cespedes and more, even, than Josh Donaldson, Sean Doolittle deserves a trip to Minnesota in mid-July. While what he's doing is harder to appreciate than Yoenis Cespedes making 308-foot throws from the left field corner to home plate, there's little disputing that Doolittle has been far and away Oakland's most dominant player, the one who impacts a game more than any other when he's on the field.
As Oakland has held the American League's best record for the better part of the season, several players have taken significant steps toward increased national prominence. Donaldson is one of them — kickstarted by Miguel Cabrera's move from third base to first, buoyed by a red-hot April and May, and nudged further by Evan Longoria's putrid start, he is all but a lock to start the Midsummer Classic at Target Field.
Donaldson, a recent slump notwithstanding, is certainly deserving. Despite 15 errors so far this season, he still sports an off-the-charts UZR/150 of 20.7. His wRC+ is 130. He's seventh across MLB in WAR. He's an All-Star.
It's getting hard to argue against Derek Norris, too. As of Wednesday morning, his wRC+ against left-handed pitchers was 205. As in, yes, Derek Norris is more than twice as productive against left-handed pitchers than the average player. He's hitting righties, too; his wRC+ against them is a measly +141. Throw in solid defense and a propensity for impressive three-run home runs to left field, and he's a perfect All-Star fit. Norris currently trails Matt Weiters and Brian McCann in All-Star voting, but McCann isn't deserving (maybe fans will realize this soon) and Weiters is injured. So Derek Norris is an All-Star, too.
But Cespedes, Donaldson, Norris, and the rest haven't come close to Doolittle's performance in May and June. They really haven't. Donaldson and Norris have both slumped at times, Cespedes is playing well but is still offensively inconsistent and prone to the same weaknesses that plagued him throughout his first two years in the league.
Doolittle is anything but inconsistent. He hasn't given up a run since April 26. Granted, he gave up four runs to the Astros on April 26, but apparently that was all he needed to decide to enter all-out beast mode for the foreseeable future. Since then, he's allowed five hits in 21⅓ innings.
He walked a batter on May 20, striking out two in the same inning to compensate. That's the only walk he's allowed all year, incidentally.
Doolittle's opponents' wOBA has spent the whole season in a nosedive, from .307 in March/April to .113 in May to .046 in June. He remembered how to strike batters out once April ended, seeing his strikeout rates jump from 27.3 percent in the season's first month to 48.8 and 46.4 percent in May and June, respectively.
This one might be the best yet: Doolittle's WHIP in June is 0.11. Sean Doolittle allows one baserunner every 10 innings. Another good one: his K/9 in May was 14.59. Sean Doolittle strikes out half the batters he faces.
Most importantly, Doolittle has truly shortened the game for the A's and their pitching staff. He's dominating at a level no Oakland closer has this side of Eckersley — when the A's get through the 8th with a lead, the game is effectively over. While the merits of actually having a dedicated closer aren't without question, Doolittle is making a strong case for the traditional closer. Thanks to him, games are eight innings long.
Doolittle also isn't a player whose value is difficult to see — there are instances when players put up off-the-charts numbers in way difficult to discern via the naked eye. This isn't one of them. Doolittle is amazing theater every time he takes the mound. He's huge, bearded, and throws a high-90s fastball the vast majority of the time. His game plan is dependable and barely wavers: fastball low, fastball higher, fastball high, strikeout. He's perfect material for a natonal broadcast on Fox.
Regardless of whether Doolittle making the American League All-Star team is actually realistic — there will be several other Oakland representatives, Boston manager John Farrell has little incentive to go out of his way to add a reliever, etc. But Doolittle does have the good fortune of a four-game set against Farrell's Red Sox this weekend, and if he gets a chance or two to dominate in the 9th, that impression could go a long way.
A's introductions will almost certainly be a tad lengthier than usual on July 15 — an entourage of Donaldson, Norris, Cespedes, Scott Kazmir, and Doolittle isn't as far-fetched as it seems at first glance. But if Oakland were allowed just one All-Star, there's nobody more deserving than Doolittle.