January 21, 2010

He's Half Mike Gonzalez, Half Mike Williams

PITTSBURGH, Pa. / January 21, 2010

Apparently Pirates GM Neil Huntington skipped last night's Live Blog to upgrade his current bullpen. As I'm sure you've read, the Pirates have officially signed Octavio Dotel to be the team's closer.

The Dotel signing addresses a common complaint about Matt Capps. Even in Capps' best years, he was never your stereotypical hard-throwing, strikeout guy that fans expect to see closing games. Dotel has struck out more than a batter per inning throughout his career. Pirates fans probably remember him as a shutdown setup man with Houston. He's almost a pure fastball pitcher and can still bring the heat, having struck out 11 batters per nine innings last year. Dotel also has a slider which he throws about once every seven pitches.

While there's been a fair amount of excitement expressed, I would expect Octavio Dotel to be at best an average closer. The four main problems with Dotel are:
1. Injury risk. Dotel missed most of 2005 with injuries, was ineffective and missed most of 2006, and then pitched in only 32 games in 2007.
2. Home runs. Hard fastballs can get hit hard. He's given up 1.2 home runs per nine innings in his career.
3. Control. He's walked 4.1 batters per nine innings in his career, 5.2 last season.
4. Age. At 36 Dotel could lose his effectiveness at any time. Some relievers are done at 30, others at 45, but it happens at some age to everyone. This is also a concern for the primary setup man, 38-year-old Brendan Donnelly.

The key to this signing is, those problems are also what makes Dotel a good value. He's overcome the walks and home runs to post good ERAs for his whole career. He's the Pirates' best option to close for around $3 million, and is much less risky than the 26-year-old Capps who was just awful in 2009. While it was probably pretty dumb to get nothing for Capps, Octavio Dotel is likely to be a better closer at the same salary.

The contract also includes a club option for 2011, which could indicate a lack of desire to flip Dotel at the trade deadline.

Alas the Anthony Claggett era was all too short. He was a Pirate for only a week worth of games, and was designated for assignment to make room for Dotel. He'll be forever remembered for pitching the 8th inning of the Pirates' 8-4 loss to the Reds on October 3. There are many candidates but Anthony Claggett could be the least significant Pirate of the 2000s. Of course there is a chance that no one claims him, which would allow the Pirates to send him to Indianapolis in a swing man/long relief role.

UPDATE: While I say Dotel's upside is an average closer at best, that's not necessarily a bad thing. An average closer has an ERA in the low 3's which is what Dotel has done the last two seasons. The real risk is an age or injury-related dropoff; if he continues to do what he did the last two years that'll be fine.


  1. I must say that I feel Dotel has much better upside...at least as much upside as a 36 year old pitcher can have, compared to Donnelly.

    Of course, I was excited about the signing of Byung-Hyun Kim last year, and we see how well that went.

  2. Does Dotel wear the classic Mike Williams cut off long sleeve tee?