Dotel performing better than it seems

Octavio Dotel
Octavio Dotel - Getty Images

According to the box score, Octavio Dotel allowed a run in two innings yesterday, blowing a save and nearly costing the Pirates the win. In reality, the tying run scored when a simple ground ball somehow eluded the glove of second baseman Aki Iwamura and bounded into center field. Such is the life of a major league reliever. Relievers do not have the luxury of an additional four, five or six innings to cancel out a fluky run, as starting pitchers do. More importantly, pitchers can only control so many aspects of a game. This has been the downfall for Dotel this season.

Here are Dotel’s basic 2010 numbers.

2010 10.61 6.33 4.49

The ERA is atrocious, the FIP is…umm… less awful…but still ugly, and the xFIP is reasonable. The difference between FIP and xFIP is home run rate, which has been a main source of Dotel’s troubles this year.

K/9 BB/9 HR/9
Dotel – Career 10.99 4.06 1.18
Dotel – 2010 11.57 4.82 2.89
2010 MLB 7.1 3.68 0.94

Dotel’s already stellar strikeout numbers are up a bit this year, although his slightly above average walk rate is also a little higher than usual. The most significant difference is the number of home runs he has allowed, more than twice his career rate. Generally speaking, pitcher can control the number of fly balls he allows, but it is generally up to the hitter to determine how far that fly ball travels. Home runs were a concern with Dotel coming into the season due to his high fly ball rate, so let’s take a look at his balls in play stats.

Dotel – Career 18.6% 31.8% 49.6%
Dotel – 2010 18.8% 31.3% 50.0%

These percentages are nearly identical to his career numbers. As I just mentioned, Dotel has always allowed a high number of fly balls, which has led to a below average home run rate. However, these numbers indicate that his extreme home run problems this season are more a factor of bad luck and small sample size than poor performance. Now, on to the underlying problems, the stats that are mostly out of his control.

Dotel – Career 0.223 0.298 10.6% 75.3%
Dotel – 2010 0.363 0.456 18.8% 44.3%
2010 MLB 0.257 0.300 ~ 10%-12% 71.5%

Dotel’s batting average allowed is 140 points higher than his career mark. This is due to an extremely high batting average on balls in play (BABIP), which is 158 points higher than it has been over his entire career. Dotel’s LD/GB/FB rates all match his career numbers, indicating he is simply the victim of additional bad luck here. Furthermore, Dotel has stranded only 44.3% of base runners, well below both his career mark and the major league average. Pitchers have some control over their LOB% (better pitchers generally strand more runners), but it can fluctuate wildly in small samples based purely on random variation.

Dotel has not been great so far this season, but he has not pitched nearly as bad as it seems. In fact, he is performing very close to his career norm. And he has had a pretty successful career, producing the following numbers in 779.2 total innings.

Career 3.81 3.83 3.59

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