It was impossible to come away from the Cardinals' loss to the Rangers in Monday night's Game 5 without talking about Tony La Russa's rather controversial nine innings of in-game strategy. La Russa made a number of puzzling and mathematically suboptimal decisions that did his team's chances of winning no favors.
And it was impossible to talk about La Russa's in-game managing without acknowledging the first intentional walk he ordered in the bottom of the eighth. With one out and a runner on second, La Russa had shutdown righty reliever Octavio Dotel intentionally walk righty Nelson Cruz so that the left-handed Marc Rzepczynski could face the left-handed David Murphy in a double-play situation. Dotel has historically been murder on righties and Cruz is no superstar, but La Russa took the ball out of his reliever's hands.
While more than a few have chosen to talk about why Dotel shouldn't have walked Cruz, though, nobody's chosen to talk about how Dotel walked Cruz. I don't mean that Dotel intentionally walked him. I mean the way Dotel intentionally walked him.
They were all like that. All four intentional balls. Just kind of softly flung in the general direction of the opposite batter's box as if Dotel were clearing fallen apples from his yard. The intentional walk itself was completed, but the process was conspicuously sloppy and unconventional.
An explanation, perhaps? We get this from Dotel, via Jeff Passan:
"I want to pitch Cruz," Dotel said. "I do. I’ve got that feeling that I was going to pitch. I’m not going to lie. When Duncan came and said we are going to walk this guy, I say, ‘Why?’ He say, ‘The manager want to do that.’
Dotel wasn't wild about the intentional walk. Does this look like a guy who's wild about the intentional walk?
Dotel wanted to pitch to Nelson Cruz. Dotel knows he's good against righties. They've batted .202 against him in his career, and .154 against him in 2011. Dotel knows that Cruz strikes out a lot. The man's made himself a household name in the playoffs, but he has holes in his swing, holes Dotel felt he could exploit. Dotel wanted to go after the guy, but his coach wouldn't let him, so he went on to issue what could only be described as a reluctant and apathetic intentional walk.
Okay, one instance, whatever. But then I did some research.
Dotel has always been like this. Or at least he's been like this for a long time. Here's a reference I scared up from August 2007:
Anyone who has seen Octavio Dotel issue an intentional walk with those wherezitgoin? lobs must wonder why the catcher and his manager don't have simultaneous heart attacks.
Dotel has always treated intentional walks like they're beneath him. He'll do it - don't think he won't do it - but he won't do it with gusto. He'll treat his catcher like a child, he'll frighten his manager half to death, and he doesn't care if the baserunners take off while he throws the equivalent of a red-stitched paper airplane because f--- intentional walks.
How strange is Dotel's technique? Most of his intentional balls break MLB Gameday:
We have a reading on one Octavio Dotel intentional ball. It was thrown on September 8, 2010 at Petco Park. It left Dotel's hand at 42.6 miles per hour. It was the second-slowest pitch thrown last season. Here is the slowest, thrown by Franklin Morales:
Look at the catcher's reaction. The catcher wasn't happy. So the next pitch went in ten miles per hour faster, as an apology. Dotel throws those lobs all the time, and he doesn't care what people say because he doesn't want to be in that position in the first place.
Based on the evidence, Octavio Dotel appears to have an utter contempt for the intentional walk. Like a temperamental child instructed to clean his room, he'll do what he's told, but he'll make damn sure everyone around him knows he's not happy. So long as he gets the job done, I suppose.