(Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire)
Jake Odorizzi inundated himself to his new team in Minnesota with a very nice first start back on March 29, tossing six scoreless innings. He only surrendered two hits and two walks, while striking out seven. Even though second start (4 1/3 innings, three runs, three walks, two strikeouts) was nothing to write home about, Odorizzi may have tapped into something in his age-28 season. Coming off an ugly 2017 where he posted a 4.14 ERA (5.43 FIP), Odorizzi may seem like someone worth avoiding outside of deep fantasy formats. However, an increase in his curveball use could point toward somewhat of a renaissance for the right-hander.
Cultivating the Curveball
Odorizzi has steadily improved the performance of his big, loopy 12-6 curveball in every season since 2015. With that has come a steady, but small, increase in usage rate. However, 2018 could be the season when Odorizzi finally embraces his curveball as his true ‘out-pitch’. If trends continue, this could help him generate a fair amount more strikeouts this season.
Consider Odorizzi’s curveball use by percentage since 2015:
2015 – 3.3%
2016 – 3.9%
2017 – 5.7%.
2018 – 16.8%
Now take a look at his pVAL/C in that same window:
Obviously our 2018 data is coming from a sample size of just two starts, but it is clear that Odorizzi has gradually improved the performance of his curveball, and this could be the year he is planning to unleash it on the world.
In addition to using the curveball more, Odorizzi has also been very intentional about when he uses it. Here’s a graph showing pitch locations to left-handers and right-handers for Odorizzi in 2018:
It’s clear Odorizzi prefers to use the slider against left-handed hitters, but gravitates more toward the curveball against right-handers. As one would expect, Odorizzi tries to keep the ball down and away to right-handed hitters. That’s much easier to do when the pitch has a whopping 8.8 inches of downward movement, an increase of nearly 2.5 inches from last season. That has helped Odorizzi generate a whopping 23.7% swinging strike rate through his first few starts, including this embarrassing hack by Adam Jones:
You can see why Odorizzi loves to bury that pitch low and away to right-handers. The best they can hope to do is bury it into the ground. Especially when he has hitters out in front looking for something faster, Odorizzi’s big heavy curveball will continue to generate swing-throughs.
It’s hard to say what prompted the dramatic increase in curveballs from Odorizzi this year. It could be a shift in philosophy with his new team or his new pitching coach. It could be Jake doing his own investigating and deciding he wants to utilize one of his better pitches more often. It could be that it’s a two-game sample size and over the course of a full season, those numbers will normalize.
Either way, as long as he continues mystifying right-handed hitters with this pitch, he is worth a look in 12-team leagues. He is certainly worth streaming against right-handed heavy hitting teams, as they are hitting just .154 off him this season.
I don’t think that is how you use the word “Inundated”.