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Octavio Dotel’s Turnaround

Yesterday Mike looked at starting pitchers who improved during the month of May. One reliever who deserves a mention in this category is Octavio Dotel. At the end of April Eno wrote a piece about who in the Pirates bullpen could replace him. It was a legitimate question to ask, as Dotel allowed runs in his final six games of the month. Here was his line in April:

9.1 IP, 15 H, 11 ER, 5 BB, 12 Ks, 10.61 ERA

As you might expect, that line came with a .456 BABIP and an 18.8 HR/FB ratio. But at age 36 and in his first year with the Pirates, it was reasonable to think that he would not be given a long time to straighten things out. Dotel was given four games off and Evan Meek picked up a save on the penultimate day of April. Then Meek entered the game in the seventh inning in his next two appearances. He pitched the ninth inning on May 7th and picked up the loss. Since then, Meek has returned to a setup role and not pitched in a close game in the ninth inning.

The Pirates were able to return Meek to a setup role due to a 180 turn in pitching performance by Dotel. Since May 1st Dotel has appeared in 12 games and posted the following line:

12 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 6 BB, 18 Ks, 0.75 ERA

In those 12 games, Dotel has recorded 9 Saves and a Win. He went from a 2.143 WHIP in April to a 0.833 WHIP in May plus one game in June. So, what happened to make him so bad in April and so good once the calendar turned? First, let’s look at the stretch where he gave up runs in six straight games.

4/13 – 2B to Schierholtz, HR Velez (both batting lefty)
4/16 – 3B to Dickerson (LHB), SF Cabrera (RHB)
4/18 – HR Bruce (LHB)
4/22 – 1B Counsell (LHB), 2B Edmonds (LHB), 1B Escobar (RHB), 1B Weeks (RHB), 1B Parra (LHB)
4/26 – 1B Fielder (LHB), BB Hart (RHB), 2B Zaun (LHB), HR Escobar (RHB)
4/28 – 2B Braun (RHB), 1B McGEhee (RHB)

Lefty batters were just killing Dotel in April. Six of the eight extra-base hits he allowed in the above stretch came versus lefties. You know things are bad when Parra, in the game as a reliever, comes on and delivers a base hit. Flash forward to May+ and here was Dotel’s line against LHB:

1-10, SAC, 3 BB, 3 Ks

The one hit was an RBI triple by Kosuke Fukudome for the only run allowed by Dotel in the period. Overall Dotel has allowed 10 hits in 27 ABs to LHB, meaning they were 9-17 (.529) with a .1.176 SLG mark against him in the opening month of the season.

Trouble versus lefties is nothing new for Dotel. Last year LHB put up a .268/.422/.577 line in 90 PA. In his career lefties have a .749 OPS versus Dotel while righties have a.655 mark.

Given how the Pirates stuck with him through his first rough patch and were rewarded with outstanding pitching, it is hard to imagine Pittsburgh demoting him from the closer’s role any time soon. The best chance for Meek or Brendan Donnelly to pick up saves is if the Pirates flip Dotel to a contender. According to Cot’s Dotel does not have a no-trade clause. But a team option for 2011 becomes a mutual option if he is traded. His contract calls for a $4.5 million salary in 2011, a significant amount yet not a poison pill for any potential contender. If Dotel is not traded, the Pirates hold a $0.5 million buyout for 2011.

So, Dotel is a good option for Saves in the next two-to-three months. His April troubles came about due to bad misfortune against a subset (LHB) who already hit him well. But before you make him a trade acquisition target, understand there is a very real chance he could be dealt to a contender and moved to a setup role at or near the trade deadline.