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2017 Player Profiles: Jake Odorizzi

With trade rumors swirling around him, let’s take a deeper look at this young Rays (for now) starter

Tampa Bay Rays v Texas Rangers Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

If you want to catch up on all the previous 2017 player profiles, check out my archive here.

The Tampa Bay Rays were not that interesting this season. Sure, Evan Longoria bounced back in a big way, Kevin Kiermaier was a defensive wizard again, Logan Forsythe and Brad Miller did some things, but for the most part, it was boring. They weren’t very good. Their best pitcher struggled to match his stellar 2015 season. One of their most promising other young pitchers, Drew Smyly, had an awful season. Their second best pitcher took a small step backwards, as well. We’re all here today to talk about him and what 2017 might hold for the guy that was traded for both Zack Greinke and Wil Myers at different times.

Odorizzi’s ERA didn’t nosedive. His K/9 and BB/9 were freakishly consistent from 2015 to 2016. However, there are still signs of regression.

ERA FIP xFIP SIERA K% BB% SwStr% FB% Hard% Exit Velocity Rank
2015 3.35 3.61 3.96 3.9 21.40% 6.60% 10.10% 40.60% 26.90% 121
2016 3.69 4.31 4.44 4.21 21.50% 7% 9.50% 44.40% 33.70% 40

Look especially at the big jump in FIP and xFIP, the larger number of hard hits, and the average exit velocity jump. The lower the exit velocity ranking, the worse the pitcher, so #1 would be the worst in baseball; hello Phil Hughes! When combined with a small drop in whiff rate, that leads to some poor results. He allowed far too much hard contact in 2016, even though his K% remained the same.

He lives (and dies) up in the zone with his four seamer.

As you can see, he threw his four seam fastball higher than ever before this year. Throwing it up in the zone usually produces two things: more whiffs and more pop-ups. However, his infield fly ball rate actually dropped from 10.6% to 9.1%. However, the swinging strike rate on his four seam did increase from 9.5 to 10.8%, which is a phenomenal number for a fastball. So it kind of worked. You also expect a fly ball increase (see table above, yep) and an increase in homers. Check. The HR/FB% on his fastball went from 6.8% in 2015 to 13%. He was very lucky to have that 6.8% number given how much he throws a high fastball. His 2016 HR/FB on fastballs was not that far above league average, so it was not a surprising number.

Let’s look at how consistent his release point was next.

You can see a fair amount of spread between different pitches and lots of bouncing around overall. That’s generally not good. Look his 2014. All of his pitches were bunched tightly together, making it hard for hitters to differentiate his pitches. I don’t think it is a coincidence that he set a career high in K% (24.1%) that season. I can’t give all the credit to his vertical release point, but it is one important indicator. If he can get better control of that in 2017, he should have better results.

While we are on the subject of mechanics and command:

You can see that his curveball was a disaster in 2016 for grooved pitches. Curveballs over the heart of the plate are either looking strikes or huge hits, usually. With that much trouble, he perhaps should have considered shutting down the pitch and using it very rarely like he did in 2015. Since we are on the subject of pitch mix, I have another important table for you:

FA% FT% CU% SL% CT% FS% FA SwStr% FT SwStr% CU SwStr% SL SwStr% CT SwStr% FS SwStr%
2015 36% 16% 3.30% 2.80% 11% 29.80% 9.50% 6.60% 2.20% 7.70% 6.90% 15.70%
2016 31% 28.90% 4% 9.30% 7% 19.40% 10.80% 10.40% 4.60% 5.60% 5.60% 10.30%

He really upped his two seamer at the expense of his four-seamer and split finger. His two-seamer was very good at getting whiffs this year (way above average), so that’s not an awful thing, but his split finger is also very good, so I wish he had taken those pitches away from something else like his slider and cutter, which are both awful, along with his curve. He has to keep some breaking pitch, but not all three. All have way below average whiff rates. He really needs to stick to his three fastballs even more than he already does (80% of his total pitches in 2016) or improve his secondary stuff.

In addition to changing his pitch mix pretty drastically, he also located his pitches very differently. These two things are very much related, of course, but it is striking to see the shift from right half of the plate in the middle vertically to dead center up.

Fewer split finger fastballs buried low and more fastballs up likely created this big shift. He threw his two seam fastball very high in the zone, which also moved up his heat map. A high two-seamer is strange, since it is often a ground ball pitch, but he does get good whiffs with it, so maybe it works for him.

There are lots of potential trade ideas surrounding Jake this offseason. One popular one has him going to Texas. Odorizzi enjoys pitching in the friendly dome of Tropicana Field. A move to a hitter’s park would be bad news for a guy that allows a lot of fly balls and homers. Even this year in a pitcher’s park his FIP and xFIP were just average. If he moves, I would like to see him end up in the AL West or NL if I were a fantasy owner (which I am, actually). The AL West has Anaheim, Oakland, and Seattle, so it would be great if he was on one of those teams. Those teams probably aren’t all that interested or have little to offer (LAA), so it might be tough.

Regardless of where he ends up, since I don’t know right now, I will try to figure out a projection for 2017. If he can simply keep his vertical release point consistent and throw fewer curves and sliders, he can keep his 2016 ERA in 2017. This is especially true because he has the profile of a pitcher that will usually beat his FIP (lots of fly balls, a widely varied arsenal, pitches high in the zone, etc.), like Marco Estrada or Chris Young.

So, for 2017...drumroll...still projection is:

3.6 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 8.2 K/9, 3.9 FIP, 4.0 xFIP. If he moves to a hitter’s park, a 3.8 or 3.9 ERA is more likely.

Thanks for reading, and, as always, Tschus!