Trade Analysis: Dotel's Impact

Senior Writer
Posted Jun 28, 2004


Adam Miller takes a close look at the A's acquisition of closer Octavio Dotel and how it will affect the A's bullpen and the A's minor league system.

Sometimes, a team needs a shot in the arm to propel it to the postseason. I don’t think anyone would argue that there is anyone better in major league baseball than Oakland GM Billy Beane at making trades that do exactly that. One only has to looks at Billy’s record of previous mid-season trades to feel comfortable that he, uh, knows what he’s doing in that department.

Oakland’s trade for reliever Octavio Dotel last Thursday is another trade that the A’s hope will rejuvenate a bullpen that leads the majors in blown saves, and is 28th in saves converted with only 13. For a team that plays a large number of close games (44 of 74 games so far within 3 runs), the following numbers are a bit disconcerting:

Record in 1-run games: 14-10
Record in 2-run games: 6-7
Record in 3-run games: 3-4

So what does Dotel bring to the table? For starters, this:

Year

Team

Lg

Age

W/L

ERA

IP

H

R

ER

BB

K

HR

H/9

BB/9

K/9

HR/9

K/BB

2001

HOU

NL

27

7-5

2.66

105.0

79

35

31

47

145

5

6.77

4.03

12.43

0.43

3.09

2002

HOU

NL

28

6-4

1.85

97.1

58

21

20

27

118

7

5.36

2.50

10.91

0.65

4.37

2003

HOU

NL

29

6-4

2.48

87.0

53

25

24

31

97

9

5.48

3.21

10.03

0.93

3.13

2004

HOU

NL

30

0-4

3.12

34.2

27

15

12

15

50

4

7.01

3.89

12.98

1.05

3.33



That’s nasty stuff right there. After being converted to a full-time reliever in 2001, hitters have managed paltry .182/.262/.290 against Dotel from 2001-2003. He has struckout 637 batters in 534.1 professional innings (10.73 K/9), and he upped that ratio to 11.35 K/9 since 2001. Although his homerun ratio of 0.69 since 2001 (and the yearly increase in HR/9) is a bit troubling, moving from a severe hitters’ park in Enron…er, Minute Maid to a decent pitchers’ park in Network Associates Coliseum should help with that.

What is the impact of the trade on the major league level? In a word, stability. The bullpen has struggled mightily so far this year, with a cumulative ERA of 5.30 in 188.2 innings. Only 2 relievers, the Justins Lehr and Duschsherer, have ERAs under 4.61, and Lehr’s only pitched 4.1 innings. The conventional thinking is that this resulted from relievers being used in unnatural roles. The Arthur Rhodes-as-closer experiment failed miserably; his 9-14 save conversion rate and his fat 5.28 ERA didn’t help things. When Rhodes failed, everyone from Jim Mecir to Chad Bradford was given a shot to close out games, and all of them failed. While Dotel has only been a closer since the beginning of 2004, it’s pretty easy to see that he’s been more effective as a reliever in his career than perhaps every A’s pitcher (except maybe Bradford). Plugging in Dotel in the closer role (and as “closer,” he’s not limited to 1 inning appearances; his use in the 8th inning on Saturday, and his 2.2 innings pitched in that appearance shows that he will be used in critical situations, and that he can pitch a couple innings if needed) makes the bullpen look like this:

Setup
Ricardo Rincon (L)
Arthur Rhodes (L)
Chad Bradford (R)
Justin Lehr (R)
Jim Mecir (R)

Long Relief/Utility
Justin Duchsherer (R)

Mop-Up
Chris Hammond (R)

Closer
Octavio Dotel (R)

Rhodes excelled as a setup man in Seattle in 2001 and 2002, posting a 2.03 ERA in 137.2 IP, along with 10.72 K/9 and an outstanding 6.26 K/BB ratio. He was ineffective in 2003 after suffering an ankle injury, but he will hopefully be able to regain his form as a dominant lefty setup man this year. His contract is expensive, though. Rincon should (and will) be used against lefties only: for all his struggles this year, left-handed batters are still only hitting .176/.194/.206 against him in 2004, and .205/.251/.305 from 2001-2003. Bradford is similarly effective against right-handers: .225/.260/.326 in 2004, and .231/.266/.312 in 2001-2003, with a cumulative 3.35 groundball/flyball ratio that helps him strand inherited runners by inducing double plays. Lehr and Mecir (when healthy) are effective at providing an inning or so of work in the 6th or 7th inning, and Duchsherer can be used in any relief spot. Hammond’s performance so far this year has warranted use only in mop-up duty.

It’s not likely that the A’s will carry 13 pitchers on their roster (8 relievers and 5 starters), as that only leaves 4 bench spots for hitters, and only 3 counting the backup catcher (Adam Melhuse). Rhodes has been mentioned in trade rumors with the Cubs and the Astros, and if Billy Beane is able to rid himself of that albatross of a contract (approximately $7 million left through 2006), he deserves some real kudos. Hammond can also be stashed on the DL until a move is made, but the A’s probably will end up trading or demoting 1-2 of these pitchers.

As for future trades, Dotel is only owed about $1.5 million for the rest of 2004, and the A’s got $500,000 in cash in addition to Dotel in the trade, so there still is some payroll flexibility to make future deals.

What about the minor league system? The A’s gave away arguably their top position prospect in third baseman Mark Teahan, but he was blocked for the next 6 years by Eric Chavez, and would’ve been dealt somewhere barring a position change. The other player traded, AAA pitcher Mike Wood, has pitched well in the minors, but would also have no place on Oakland’s major league roster in the foreseeable future. Mark Mulder, Tim Hudson, Barry Zito, Rich Harden, and Mark Redman are the major league starters, and Joe Blanton, Kirk Saarloos, and John Rheinecker are all available and ready now in the minors. Since Wood is more of a soft-tosser, relying more on control than stuff, he doesn’t project to more than a back-of-the-rotation pitcher, or a middle reliever. He’s certainly a fungible commodity given the A’s adeptness at drafting and developing pitchers. Losing Teahan is a hit in the A’s trading chips, but Wood’s loss will not be felt.

Overall, Dotel improves the A’s bullpen without sacrificing any major league players or needed prospects, while preserving asset and financial flexibility for any future deals this year. I’d say that the A’s made out pretty well in the deal.



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