During their respective 2010 tenures with the Pittsburgh Pirates (as of today), James McDonald has pitched 41 innings while Octavio Dotel has thrown 40. In other regards, they are strikingly similar.

They’ve both faced 173 batters. They’ve both given up 19 earned runs. They’ve both walked 19 batters (counting intentional passes). And their ERAs are also very close: 4.17 for McDonald versus 4.28 for Dotel. 

So are they about the same value, or is one decidely more valuable than the other?

Here are some other relevant statistics: McDonald has given up 40 hits, versus 35 for Dotel. McDonald has struck out 40 batters compared to 48 for Dotel. But the latter has given up more home runs (five), versus only one for the current Pirate. Balancing these statistics, they still look much the same.

Except that Dotel’s FIP (sabermetric ERA) of 4.22 closely matches (thereby supporting) his actual one. But McDonald’s FIP of 3.00 is decidedly better than his ERA, suggesting better things to come.

And most of the “intangibles” are in McDonald’s favor. They are at the opposite ends of the age spectrum (relative to professional baseball). McDonald is a young thrower who will likely get better. Dotel is an aging hurler who probably won’t.

Also, McDonald is making MLB’s “minimum wage” of $400,000 a year, escalated for inflation. Dotel charges what the market will bear, which could be ten times that much. That’s not a small consideration for a low budget team like the Pirates.

And the club has four more years of control over McDonald. Dotel’s contract ends at the end of the season, unless one of the parties exercises a $4.5 million mutual option. Who knows if he will be back?

McDonald is a starter, which is to say that he will end up pitching more innings, as soon as he finishes ramping up. As a closer, there is basically a limit to the number of innings that Dotel will pitch. No one closes every game in the season even for one inning.

Dotel looks more valuable because he has participated in more games, and this participation is represented by a large number of saves. But contributing fractional pieces of games really isn’t as valuable as putting “whole” games, or at least whole starts, on the board. And McDonald lasts longer (on average) than most of Pittsburgh’s other starters.

On the whole, the Pittsburgh Pirates got the better of the Dotel-McDonald deal “straight up.” And that’s without counting the fact that they also received outfield prospect Andrew Lambo.

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