Prior to the 2018 Major League Baseball season the Minnesota Twins acquired Jake Odorizzi in exchange for Jermaine Palacios. At the time, Palacios was a second or third tier prospect that had some internal fanfare. Swapping him for a big-league starter was a no-brainer though. Jake’s first season with the Twins was mostly mediocre, but there was reason to believe he was better than the numbers.
Across 32 starts a season ago Odorizzi owned a 4.49 ERA, 8.9 K/9, and a 3.8 BB/9. He dropped his home run rate significantly, and while the WHIP was a career worst, a 4.20 FIP suggested a bit more was in the tank. Fast forward to where we are today and Odorizzi owns a league best 1.96 ERA, 9.8 K/9, and 2.9 BB/9. His 226 ERA+ leads the league and he has all the makings of a Cy Young candidate.
In terms of increased production, nothing has substantially jumped off the page. The step forward has been the culmination of tweaks made across the board. Jake now owns a strikeout rate of 28%, a 6% increase over his 2018 mark. The walks are down while both the homers and hits have tailed off as well. If there’s something substantial to note, it’s the incredible 83.6% strand rate.
Batted ball profiles suggest that hitters are producing the same type of contact against the former Rays starter. Hard hit rates are static over the past two years, and trajectories are also all in line. The difference in induced contact likely comes in the form of velocity and offering. Odorizzi has added 2 mph to his average fastball, and the 11% curveball usage is over double the rate that it’s been since any point following 2013.
You’d have been hard pressed to see comments with a positive tone regarding many of Odorizzi’s starts a season ago. Despite the mediocre results, and a bit better in terms of peripherals, there wasn’t much excitement about the possibility of a 2019 rebound. Today we’re in a place that Odorizzi is often looked upon as a certainty when toeing the rubber, and the results have followed. It’s hard not to be happy about the reality that the changes haven’t been dramatic.
If there’s an extension candidate in the Twins rotation, then Odorizzi is it. Still just 29 years old, he should have more than a few years of high-level production still ahead of him. Knowing Minnesota has a few rotation holes to fill for the year ahead, Odorizzi slotting in as one of the guarantees would be a welcomed presence. Unfortunately, by waiting through this season Minnesota will have to deal with an inflated price tag. At the end of the day though, the Twins aren’t hurting for cash flow and wrapping up a starter this good is something they should jump at.
Derek Falvey and Wes Johnson have helped to overhaul the Twins pitching process, and the infrastructure set up throughout the system makes it a sustainable solution for years to come.