Dan Otero Finds His Niche
Former San Francisco Giant Dan Otero has very quietly established himself as a terrific relief pitcher for the play-off bound Oakland A’s. After tonight’s game, he has a 1.43 ERA in 31 appearances and 37.2 innings pitched this season. Things couldn’t be much better in Otero’s life than they are now, as he also celebrated the birth of his first child this past week.
As a Giants fan, I’ve been following Otero’s career since at least 2009 when he had a break-out season at AA Connecticut (1.15 ERA in 39 relief appearances and 39 innings pitched). He was a 21st round draft pick in 2007, probably because he was already 22 years old, which was likely related to the fact that he started his college career at Duke but later transferred to the University of South Florida.
At any rate, he shot through the Giants’ farm system because he was an extreme strike thrower who also managed to strike hitters out. However, he got hurt, either in late 2009 or early 2010, which cost him roughly a year, and when he had fully recovered, he was no longer young.
He pitched well for the Gints in 2012 Spring Training and made the team to start the season. However, in his seventh appearance, he allowed six runs, all earned, to the Reds and was promptly sent down, even though he’d pitched fairly well over his previous six appearances. He got a September 2012 call-up and again pitched fairly well in five appearances.
However, the Giants waived Otero in March of this year. The Yankees claimed him, then waived him the very next day, allowing the A’s to claim him. Otero started the season with the AAA Sacramento River Cats, posting a 0.99 ERA in 23 relief appearances in which he converted 15 saves.
In other words, his pitching in Oakland since the A’s promoted him in mid-June isn’t exactly a fluke. Otero has been a great relief pitcher this year, as he has been at times in the minor leagues in the past.
In recent years, there has been quite a flow of talent back and forth across the San Francisco Bay. If a player washes out on one side of the Bay, there’s at least a chance he’ll excel on the other side.
Santiago Casilla was a mediocre-at-best reliever for the A’s for three seasons from 2007 through 2009. He had good stuff, but not enough command, and he gave up too many dingers even though the Oakland Coliseum is not a great home run park. The Giants signed him as a free agent after he was non-tendered by the A’s before the 2010 season, and he’s been a great set-up man in San Francisco for the past four seasons even if he does do it in the most stressful way possible.
Aside from Otero, the A’s got several useful years out of Rajai Davis after the Giants waived him in 2008, and A’s also got some valuable work out of Travis Blackley after the Giants released him last year.
It could be nothing more than random chance, given how much border-line major league players bounce around during their professional careers. However, I suspect that the A’s and Giants are both keenly aware of the players on the other’s roster simply because it’s so convenient (a short drive or BART ride) to scout the other team’s players.
Another factor that may play into it is that the A’s and Giants have generally had very different organizational strategies. The A’s are the money ball team, while the Giants have traditionally liked toolsy players (i.e., players with great physical talents). Otero, with his ability to throw strikes and his great ratios, is certainly the kind of pitcher the A’s value. Casilla, with his big fastball-slider combination, is certainly the kind of pitcher the Giants value.
Another factor may be the differences between the two leagues. The NL has had the reputation of being a fastball league compared to the AL, i.e. pitchers throw a higher percentage of fastballs in the Senior Circuit and more off-speed pitches in the AL. However, I don’t know if that is, in fact, true — this article says AL pitchers throw slightly more fastballs than NL pitchers, although the numbers are so close as to be statistically insignificant.
Another possibility is that the players involved simply got better once they’d had some relatively unsuccessful major league experience with their first clubs. There’s nothing like a little major league playing time to make a player a better major leaguer in the future.