Monday, July 1, 2019

The Come Up and Buy in for Odorizzi

Needing a starting pitcher, the Minnesota Twins front office send minor leaguer Jermaine Palacios to the Tampa Bay Rays for Jake Odorizzi. Palacios had some hype but was never a top prospect, while Odorizzi had been largely mediocre and was set to turn 28. It’s hard not to see more upside in a big-league starter under team control, but this leap forward has been immense for the former Tampa starter.

Odorizzi was often chided for his efforts by Twins fans last season. He posted a 4.49 ERA backed by a 4.20 FIP. The 8.9 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9 were right in line with career norms. On a bad team he was hardly a large issue and generally pitched better than the surface level numbers suggested. In 2019 he’s gone gangbusters though, and he’s made his first All Star game to show for it.

Cooling off some over the last few weeks, Odorizzi still owns a 2.73 ERA and 9.9 K/9 across 85.2 IP. His FIP and xFIP suggest a bit more regression could be coming, but there’s a visible change that’s been made by the pitcher Minnesota trots out as their number two starter. Having been a low 90’s guy his whole big-league career, Odorizzi has added two mph of velocity under the tutelage of Wes Johnson and is now averaging 93.1 mph on the pitch this season. Not only is he throwing harder, but Odorizzi has shifted his repertoire to flip a career high number of sinkers, taking away from both his cutter and splitter.

This new version of Odorizzi is giving up a career high percentage of hard-hit balls, but he’s missing bats at record marks as well. The 12.4% whiff rate is a new high-water mark, while his contact rate is down to just 74.3% and the zone contact rate stands under 80% (78.5%) for the first time in his career. A slight jump in hard hit rate could be explainable through the increased velocity, but even still with that development, missing more barrels is the key component here.

Over the course of his career Odorizzi has averaged 1.2 HR/9 and has never been below the 1.0 mark. Through his first 16 starts he’s allowed just eight homers and is at 0.8 HR/9 on the season. Shedding hits and walks as well, the 1.074 WHIP stands out on its own. Having been integrated into the Twins system a year ago, and now working with a pitching thinktank that’s been overhauled, he’s reaping the rewards.

Next season Odorizzi will find himself on the open market for the first time in his career. The Twins have a couple of holes in their rotation that they’ll need to commit arms to. We don’t yet know how the club will navigate the trade market but extending a guy they already have in house may certainly make some sense.

Last season Jake Odorizzi was getting his feet wet with Minnesota and simply going through the motions he had always practiced to compete. This season he’s been given a few new tools that have taken his game to the next level and everyone involved has benefitted from it.