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Can the Cardinals break “The Curse of Octavio Dotel”?

Long before Saturday night’s grand slam by Philadelphia’s Raul Ibanez off St. Louis Cardinals reliever Octavio Dotel clinched the 2011 National League Eastern Division crown for the home Phillies, the poor late-season results by the teams employing the right-handed pitcher had been a point of discussion, and often consternation.

Specifically, during a recent radio appearance on KXnO FOX Sports Radio in Des Moines, I was asked if I knew about the curse that has fallen upon every major league team that acquired Dotel via an in-season trade.

The view is that the reliever is the patron saint of deadline deals gone bad, a player to add if a club wants to create the appearance that it is trying to close the gap, but yet, it always ends up falling short.

I admitted that I was not aware of this. I had heard of the Cubs’ “Curse of the Billy Goat” and the Red Sox’ “Curse of the Bambino,” which the Cardinals unfortunately helped remove in 2004.  Those are team curses, not ones following individual players. Though I do recall hearing about “The Ex-Cub Factor,” Dotel has never pitched for the Baby Bears.

Dotel’s curse isn’t exactly of that magnitude. It would be a supreme understatement to call the 37-year-old former closer, now set up man “well-traveled.” Tracking his every move, let alone his teams’ results, would require some motivation – perhaps driven by a healthy dose of past disappointment.

In a 13-season career that began with the 1999 New York Mets, Dotel has worn the uniform of 12 different clubs. Of course, his most recent and current organization is the St. Louis Cardinals, which acquired the right-hander from Toronto on July 27 as part of the Colby Rasmus trade.

Actually, Dotel has appeared in the post-season three different years. It did not go well in any of them as he allowed runs in five of eight appearances for a 7.88 playoff ERA. He pitched for the Mets in his rookie year, the Astros in 2001 (the year they tied the Cardinals at the top of the NL Central) and the 2008 White Sox. Needless to say, he does not own a championship ring.

What caught my eye even more than his post-season struggles is the sponsor message plastered across Dotel’s player page at It states this:

Oakland Committee to Impeach Octavio Dotel sponsor(s) this page.

Our stance is that Octavio Dotel is the worst closer of alltime and a disgrace to the Green and Gold. September 23, 2004 – the day the 2004 season really ended for Oakland.

Now, that reads like it comes from someone who still feels the pain of The Curse of Dotel, and in fact may have witnessed its origin.

Dotel had previously been traded during the season four times in his career, with St. Louis being the fifth. Likely those clubs were hoping to add an experienced bullpen arm to help put them over the top.

Just as I was warned, it never worked out as planned. None of the four prior clubs that added Dotel actually reached the playoffs. The first was none other than the 2004 A’s.

I haven’t yet seen Brad Pitt in “Moneyball” and will be in no hurry to do so. However, I do know that the 2004 season was the last hurrah of Oakland’s Big Three – Tim Hudson, Barry Zito and Mark Mulder. In my humble opinion, Billy Beane’s fame has more to do with those three than any stat ever imagined.

Cardinals fans know all too well about the latter of the three hurlers, now dispensing commentary for ESPN. Zito is still active in MLB, but only because of an albatross of a contract bestowed upon him by the Giants. Hudson is the only productive one of the three, currently wearing the uniform of the Atlanta Braves.

The 2011 Cardinals are the only one of the five acquiring teams to have been in first place at the time of the acquisition.

Octavio Dotel’s in-season trades

Year From To Division standings at trade Standings at end* Impact Final result Playoffs
2004 Houston Oakland -1 game -1 0 91 wins – 2nd place no
2007 KC Atlanta -3.5 -5 -1.5 84 wins – 3rd place no
2010 Pittsburgh Dodgers -7 -11.5 -4.5 80 wins – 4th place no
2010 Dodgers Colorado -1 -9 -8 83 wins – 3rd place no
2011 Toronto St. Louis +0.5 -6.5 -7 TBD 3.3% chance

* Division standings at the end of the season, when Dotel was traded away, or in the case of 2011, as of September 18.

As the table indicates, not once did Dotel’s new club gain ground in the standings after he was acquired. The “best” case was in 2004, but that failure was obviously still very clear since the A’s fell short.

Last season may have provided the most interesting twist. On July 31, the Dodgers added Dotel from the Cardinals’ divisional opponent, the Pirates, at the price of promising young starter James McDonald. Six weeks later, LA had lost four games in the standings and at 11.5 out, was all but dead and buried. At that point, the Dodgers made the unusual move of flipping Dotel to an intradivision foe, the Colorado Rockies.

From September 18, when Dotel joined the Rockies, until the end of the season, Colorado stumbled mightily, dropping from just one game behind the Giants to their final resting place of nine games out.

Here in 2011, the Cardinals were holding onto a slim, half-game lead in the National League Central when Dotel was acquired. Today, they are still grasping onto playoff chances that are sitting at 3.3 percent as of Sunday.

Certainly the Cardinals’ loss of seven games in the standings, as in all the past cases, cannot be blamed directly on the arrival of just one reliever. In fact, in his first 18 innings with the club, Dotel had actually pitched very well (2.50 ERA, 22:4 strikeout to walk ratio), even dodging his personal kryptonite, left-handed hitters (6-for-26, .231).

That was before Saturday night’s grand slam, which serves as a good reminder that until the curse is broken, who can say it does not exist?

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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30 Responses to “Can the Cardinals break “The Curse of Octavio Dotel”?”

  1. JumboShrimp says:

    Analytically, one way to look at this amusing topic would be to research Dotel’s ERA, WHIP, etc., post-trade, with the teams that acquired him. Instead, above, there is an assumption of a team W-L “impact” solely blamed on poor Octavio, whereas in reality Dotel is just among circa 60 players (combining the post Sept 1 rosters of his team and the one that prevailed in the division) whose collective efforts determine wins and losses.

    • Nutlaw says:

      Well, you can’t exactly quantify a curse with stats. 🙂

      It’s probably more important to take away from this that adding a reliever at the deadline isn’t likely going to put a team over the edge.

    • JumboShrimp says:

      Octavio broke into the Majors as a starter with the Mets in 1999. During 2001-3, with Houston, he was an awesome reliever. In 2001, he struck out 145 in 105 innings. In 2002, his ERA was 1.85 in 83 appearances.
      In 2004, the season when traded to Oakland, he had 122 Ks in 85 innings. That’s manly stuff.
      For the As, he went 6 and 2, with 22 saves in 28 opportunties. The claim that he jinxed Oakland is pretty silly, if you look at his performance numbers.

      Octavio suffered a serious injury in early 2005. It took about three years for him to work his way back. Some thought him washed up, but he persevered and had fine seasons for the White Sox in 2008/9.
      1,069 Ks in 883 innings in the Bigs, 107 saves. A distinguished ML career.

  2. blingboy says:

    We’re doomed.

  3. Brian Walton says:

    Sunday lineup:

    1. Ryan Theriot (R) 2B
    2. Allen Craig (R) RF
    3. Albert Pujols (R) 1B
    4. David Freese (R) 3B
    5. Lance Berkman (S) LF
    6. Yadier Molina (R) C
    7. Rafael Furcal (S) SS
    8. Jon Jay (L) CF
    9. Chris Carpenter (R) P

  4. JumboShrimp says:

    Another fun game. Theriot gets a hit and scores. Craig a big game. Albert builds his NL leading HR lead. Sweet. Carpenter gives Westbrook a tutorial.

  5. JumboShrimp says:

    Great at bat by Craig.

  6. blingboy says:

    Let’s hope we get to see what a 14 game winner looks like, go Kyle!!
    Show them how its done.

  7. crdswmn says:

    Theriot noted, “When I was playing shortstop we were in first place. I know that. It is what it is.”

    You have to be effing kidding me.

  8. Bw52 says:

    Nothing wrong with a player believing in himself and his ability.No biggie.Nothing to get upset about IMO.

    • Nutlaw says:

      Well, there can be a problem when a player’s ego borders on delusional. I don’t think that there is any objective measure that would indicate that Theriot is a major league quality shortstop any more. That said, there’s only so much more time that he can make a fuss over it before he is hopefully sent packing.

    • crdswmn says:

      Unless you are one of his teammates, who might get upset by the implication in those words.

  9. friendmouse says:

    I might opine that there’s a new, similar curse underway…called the Ludwick epizootic. Unto whom do you think Luddy will be dealt in late July 2012??

  10. Brian Walton says:

    It is a beautiful night here in Philly. About 70 degrees and cloudy but not likely to rain. Almost no breeze.

    Furcal 6, Punto 4, Pujols 3, Berkman 7, Craig 9, Jay 8, Laird 2, Descalso 5, Lohse 1.

    Am typing up a TLR recap from this afternoon’s discussion for subscribers now. Have interviewed most of the September callups and had a long chat with Memphis pitching coach Blaise Ilsley that will be appearing on the site in the upcoming days…

  11. JumboShrimp says:

    Dotel against Pence with a chance to break the curse.

  12. JumboShrimp says:

    TLR is looking smart about now. 2.5 behind the Braves, who are cracking under the pressure.

    The Cards went up to Milwaukee for 3 games. The Vegas line gave them 1 percent chance to sweep, but they did.

    Now they go to Philly, against the best team in the league and Cy Young Halladay, and take 3 of 4.

    9 more games to go.

    • friendmouse says:

      Gotta love it!! TLR wins Manager of the Year if we actually make the playoffs!! I may not be his biggest fan, but I do believe in giving a man his due, if he’s earned it. And to make the playoffs with the challenges he’s encountered…he’s EARNED it!! IF…we make the playoffs!

      • Brian Walton says:

        I suspect Kirk Gibson and Ron Roenicke are the favorites.

      • crdswmn says:

        I give the players more credit for the surge than the manager. I get sick and damn tired of hearing how the players are all to blame when the team loses, but when they win, TLR is a genius.

        • friendmouse says:

          And, in my opinion, you’d be right to do so, c-woman. I have expressed here and elsewhere that I’ve grown tired of TLR, and am ready for a change. I’m still hacked at him for pulling Carp about a month ago when he had a shut-out into the 9th, and we lost the game. Still, as I said, IF we do make the playoffs, then all the Cardinals should be praised…including the Manager. Or, maybe even ESPECIALLY the Manager, because he DOES determine who plays when and where. I’d have screwed it up pretty badly by now were I the Manager…that’s for sure. But it’s the players who actually determine the final score. GO, CARDINALS!!!

          • crdswmn says:

            My opinion is this. Players/manager share responsibility for the outcome of the game. The more input the manager has, the more the share of the responsibility. For instance, if all the manager does is fill out the lineup card, and then makes no changes during the game (ie, the same 9 players that started the game, finish it) then the responsibility is heavier on the players than the manager. If the manager makes numerous changes during the game, his responsibility increases. The share of the responsibility is different depending on the change made and their relative effect on the outcome. I don’t have this as a statistical formula because this is just my subjective opinion. It is laughable to me to suggest that when the team loses (or wins) , it is entirely the execution of the players that is determinative of the outcome. The manager can put players in situations that maximize their potential to either succeed or fail and to the extent that he does that, he should share in the responsibility for the outcome, whether good or bad.

            I don’t have a problem with giving TLR a share of the credit for the team’s successes. What I have a problem with is the extreme position of declaring that the successes go to TLR and the failures go to the players.

        • JumboShrimp says:

          TLR is a super genius.

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