The Toronto Blue Jays entered the offseason knowing that the team’s bullpen would look drastically different on Opening Day 2011 than it did last October. While Jason Frasor decided to accept Toronto’s arbitration offer rather than testing the market as a Type A free agent, fellow Type A Scott Downs signed a three-year deal with the Angels, and Type B free agent Kevin Gregg is expected to pitch out of someone else’s ‘pen next year. Attempting to compensate for those relief losses, the Jays have reportedly signed Octavio Dotel to a one-year, $3.5 million deal. Dotel’s pact pays him $2.75 million in 2011, with a $3.75 million club option for 2012 that includes a $750K buyout.
Dotel, 37, is joining his 11th different organization since he broke into the big leagues as a swing man for the Mets in 1999. Last year, he pitched for the Pirates, Dodgers and Rockies, getting traded in both July and September. You’d have to say that the Pirates are happy they inked Dotel last winter, as they snagged arguably their best starter in James McDonald (not arbitration-eligible until 2012) and outfield prospect Andrew Lambo from L.A. on deadline day. Colorado now gets a Type B compensation pick because they offered Dotel arbitration and he signed elsewhere, despite the fact that his Rockies career lasted all of 5.1 innings pitched.
Slinging fastballs more than 80 percent of the time from a low three-quarters arm slot (his heat lost about one MPH last year), Dotel’s innings feature ample walks, whiffs and homers. Over the past three seasons, he has 11.27 strikeouts per nine innings, 4.52 walks per nine and, with a ground ball rate of just 33.2 percent, 1.3 HR/9. Dotel’s three-year FIP is 4.11, and his xFIP is 3.92. He was worth +0.6 Wins Above Replacement in 2008, +0.8 in 2009 and a mere +0.1 WAR this past season.
With that low arm slot, Dotel is wicked against right-handed hitters and a walk machine versus lefties. His 2008-2010 line against same-handed batters features 12.32 K/9, 3.32 BB/9 and 1.15 HR/9, with a 3.29 FIP and a 3.21 xFIP in 133 innings. By contrast, Dotel has 8.95 K/9, 7.16 BB/9 and 1.64 HR/9 when a lefty steps to the plate, with a 5.92 FIP and a 5.47 xFIP in 60.1 IP. Dotel’s struggles against opposite-handed hitters are nothing new, as his career xFIP against lefties (4.68) is 1.7 runs higher than his xFIP versus right-handers (2.98).
Dotel is expected to pitch high-leverage frames for the Jays, though it’s debatable whether he’s a better option than Frasor in Toronto’s tightest relief spots. For 2011, Bill James projects 11.12 K/9, 4.24 BB/9, 1.32 HR/9 and a 4.07 FIP for Dotel. Frasor’s forecast has 8.73 K/9, 3.9 BB/9, 0.67 HR/9 and a 3.54 FIP. Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS has a 111 ERA+ projection for Dotel, and a 114 ERA+ for Frasor.
Either way, Dotel will be at the back end of the Jays’ bullpen. But, reputation and save totals aside, he now looks like a good middle man who should be shielded against lefties whenever possible.