Oakland Athletics Analysis: What Has Happened to Dan Otero in 2015?

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When the Oakland Athletics claimed Dan Otero off waivers on March 29, 2013, it looked like a steal. In his first two seasons with the green and gold, he tossed 125.2 innings and held a fantastic 2.02 ERA. His 10-2 record was the best of any reliever in that period and maybe his most impressive statistic was the four home runs allowed. His natural skill of inducing weak contact using his sinker/slider/changeup combination was extremely efficient. However consistent strike-throwing ability may have been his biggest weapon. During 2013-14, Otero’s walks per nine-innings (BB9) was only 1.5, one of primary reasons why his walks/hits per inning pitched (WHIP) sat at 1.138. Yet, in 2015 there has been a visible difference – in his performance – and the shutdown innings A’s fans became used to watching, just simply haven’t happened.

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This season, Otero currently holds a 7.68 ERA through just 34 innings. He’s surrendered 50 hits – 27 of those being line drives – along with five home runs. He’s been particularly bad on the road, giving up 20 runs in just 17.1 innings. After struggling early in the year, he was sent down to Triple-A Nashville, but since coming up he still has not been able to find his stride. If you watch him pitch, it doesn’t seem like there is much difference to his approach to hitters, but the results between ’13-’14 and ’15 have obviously been dramatic. So let’s take a look why there has been such a difference in his performance:

Sinker’s Effectiveness Has Tanked
According to FanGraphs, opposing batters his .223 off Otero’s sinker in 2014, whereas this season, they’re hitting .360 off it. Not only is that a crazy fall off in terms of effectiveness, but it’s a little puzzling considering his velocity has not fallen whatsoever (about 90 mph). Also the swing and miss percentage has increased from 5.2% to 8.2%, so by that measurement, the movement of it hasn’t faltered – technically its gotten better. He has however allowed harder contact off his sinker, with his 2015 line drive percentage all the way up to 27.3% (a 5% increase from 2013). This has led to opponents are also slugging .558 against the pitch, which is extremely concerning. From taking a look at this specific pitch – which has really been his bread and butter – it looks to me as if he just has had trouble locating it this year. Leaving it up and in the middle of the strike zone has been his biggest issue and obviously has hurt him immensely.

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His Pitch Variety Is Perplexing
This may surprise you, but Otero has actually pitched differently this year than last. Whether or not he’s made more of a concentrated effort to do so remains unknown, but his pitch variety may explain a part of it. In 2015, the right-hander has introduced a cutter that has – as of recently – kind of replaced his slider because the slider just has not been very good so far this year. According to Pitch f/x on FanGraphs, Otero’s Slider runs above average (wSL) is -3.7 whereas his cutter is only at -0.3. While neither of those are good numbers, at least it looks as if he’s found more comfort throwing the cutter. His change-up usage has also fallen a bit (13.8% to 10.8%), which is interesting considering it has been his second most effective pitch (-0.4 wCH) to his cutter.

Luck May Have Something To Do With It
Everyone on the A’s roster – not named Sonny Gray – has seemed to struggle mightily in the “luck” department and Otero is no different. As I mentioned earlier, his ERA is 7.68, however his Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) is only 4.16. This statistic is supposed to measure a pitcher’s effectiveness at preventing HR, BB, HBP, and causing K’s, which means by this evaluation, Otero has been better than his stats show. Although it may be hard to believe that anyone with a 7.68 ERA hasn’t actually performed that poorly, there is some merit to FIP. Maybe its luck, maybe its something else. Either way Otero has had one of the roughest seasons for any Oakland reliever in recent memory. Especially considering the fact that he is not far removed from being the go-to all-purpose bullpen arm.

Next: A's No Longer Need Ike Davis

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