With helium balls flying out this year and the Launch Angle Revolution storming the Bastille, many pitchers are a lot less safe than they used to be. This is especially true for flyball pitchers and those that pitch-to-contact (I fart in your general direction Ray Searage). Then, from somewhere in the crowd, emerges Jake Odorizzi who runs down the ramp and dives into the ring, a pretty extreme flyball pitcher. He has a career GB/FB rate of .71 and a FB% north of 47% the last 3 years. This year he’s at 50.7% yet his HR/FB rate is microscopic 5.3%, wow! He is currently sporting a line of 1.96 ERA 0.96 WHIP and a K-rate above 9 (that ERA is good for 2nd behind only Hyun-Jin Ryu, and he’s 6th in WHIP). We thought he was dead and scrambled; but now he’s back, slaying giants, and laughing in the face of expectations. Is this reality or a dream? Is this the Resurrection of Jake the Snake or is he just getting by on good feelings, bad farts, and a suppressed BABIP? Is he just an egg waiting to become an omelette, or is he a showman mystifying his opponents always one step ahead? How many more questions can I ask?
Today’s deep dive we explore these questions, and attempt to answer some. Jake Odorizzi is, and has always been, a bit of a mercurial (word of the day) pitcher. He’s not a power pitcher (avg FB 91-92 mph) or a finesse pitcher, but something different. And in order to understand how we got here, we have to go back. *queue the Wayne’s World flashback* When he came into the league he threw 4 pitches: Fastball, Curve, Change, Slider. None of them were very good and thusly neither was he. The book on him read, “has no out-pitch.” In spring training for 2014, he learned how to throw a split-change from Alex Cobb leading to a decent rookie showing. He followed that with his best season in 2015 and continued success in 2016. In 2015-16, he taught himself a cutter than he used in conjunction with his slider but stayed in the zone to get strikes. His slider wasn’t powerful and didn’t have massive run; but, he discovered he could make it and the cutter mimic each other enough to fool batters, giving him an edge. Jake learned how to be a Snake. He couldn’t overpower batters but could deceive them with 2 sets of pitches that play off each other.
2017 and 2018 proved to be mostly forgettable. His strikeout rate stayed mostly level but his BB/9 increased to nearly 4. And, his flyball tendencies betrayed him allowing 50 HR during that time, much likely due to a back strain and oblique injuries he dealt with during that time. He went from an amazing story of an under-recruited prospect to an afterthought. *dooda lu, dooda lu* Fast-forward to the present. This offseason Odorizzi spent time at Florida Baseball Ranch making mechanical adjustments to his pitching including learning how to use his lower half more to drive the ball. The other focus? Spending much of his time re-emphasizing pitching up in the zone, as he had earlier in his career playing to his strengths, a fastball with natural rise. The results?
|2018||91.4 mph||84.5 mph||83.3 mph||85.0 mph||72.8 mph|
|2019||93.3 mph||85.9 mph||84.6 mph||87.2 mph||75.6 mph|
He has increased velocity on ALL his pitches. Most importantly, he’s added 2 mph to his fastball. This year, he has merged his slider/cutter so much that Baseball Savant does not even distinguish a difference between the 2 in their data. So I went to Brooks Baseball to get the numbers. I also learned that they thought he threw a sinker for a few years but after further digging discovered that he’s learned to manipulate his fastball to get both 4-seam and 2-seam-like (sinker) movement from it. So in reality, he says he now has basically 4 pitches but controls them differently to get functionally a 6 pitch arsenal out of them. The rest of the story then is in the drop/break.
|2018||13.8/-6.8 in||27.1/-6.5 in||30.2/4.2 in||25.2/3.2 in||57.2/5.3 in|
|2019||12.5/-7.6 in||27.4/-7.0 in||30.3/3.7 in||24.8/2.6 in||54.3/5.6 in|
On the fastball data I used what Brooks is calling a “Sinker” even though the numbers are essentially the same for Fourseam just with a larger degree of run, after all its the same pitch that he just puts more torque on it. Anywho, notice that on his fastball (-6.8 to -7.6) and split-change (-6.5 to -7.0) he’s getting more armside run now with the uptick in velocity, that falls away from lefties and runs inside to righties. This is what his fastball looks like. I could watch that all day. The fastball has a bit more rise on it too, creating a greater vertical difference with the change. Then you see his slider/cutter have merged more together, giving them little difference besides sweeping movement and late cutting movement that runs inside on lefties and away from righties. As he describes it, “I can throw it slower for a slider effect, or I can throw it harder for more of a cutter type of break. It’s the same grip, so it just depends on how I want to throw it.”
With Odorizzi, correctly formulating his usage rates can be a bit of a fool’s errand. Since he plays with his movement and velocity pitch to pitch, its hard to classify his pitches as every source I went to had different data. And isn’t that really what this is all about? He doesn’t want you, scouts, or batters to know what he’s doing. The fastball subtext is the “4-seam” to “2-seam” split last year was roughly 35.1/19.1, and this year it is now 33.4/25.4; that is now a nearly 1:1 split and you have no idea which way it will go. Then you also have his split-change with twice the drop. That’s 72.8% of his pitches this year that look the same but could end 3 possible ways, and the data collectors can’t even agree on what that is. He’s also using his curve twice as much for a career high of nearly 11%, but what for?
|2018||23.7% / .225||11.4% / .240||12.3% / .271||12.1% / .286||8.9% / .250|
|2019||33.8% / .154||8.8% / .216||14.2% / .095||10.2% / .143||5.2% / .409|
The curve interestingly enough is getting worse results, so why is he throwing it more? The standout here is that batters are now whiffing on his Fastball a massive 33.8% (for comparison, Gerrit Cole’s is 35.6%). Working up in the zone, and dialing up and down the movement has led him to keeping batters off-balance without elite velocity. Here’s another fastball. Batters are hitting only .154 on his fastballs compared to .225 last year. He is using the curve then not to get whiffs but change the eye level and mix speed, allowing his fastball to play up. His merged slider/cutter is now virtually unhittable (.111 combined) since batters, and Baseball Savant, can’t tell the difference between them. Deception has become his calling card; Jake the Snake has returned. Lets compare how he’s doing to his best season in 2015.
All of the underlying numbers point to him performing better than he had in his best season prior. His Weighted On-Base Average is good for top 6% of pitchers and his Hard Hit rate of 31.8%, good for top 15, surrounds him with pitchers like Berrios, Ryu, and Paddack; is that good company? What these numbers tell us is that he earned nearly all of his success so far this season. The BABIP is little low, but given the other data it’s not THAT low. There will be some regression coming because obviously he can’t sustain a sub-2 ERA, but, his FIP of 2.82 suggests it won’t be horrible. His outstanding 5.3% HR/FB rate will be the stat most likely to bounce back toward the mean. If this creeps back towards his rate of 8.9% from last year, he can still finish the season around a low 3 ERA. That’s still a top 30 pitcher boys and girls!
These numbers look great as does that fastball. We as humans long to believe in the redemption story, we want to see those who succeeded once before rise from the ashes. We want Jake the Snake to get his life back (at least I do). Has he confronted his demons or is this just flash in the pan, a showman without substance? What if I told both could be true, he’s as real as he’s ever been with some slight of hand as well. Rocco Baldelli has done a masterful job managing Jake’s starts. He has only allowed Jake to see the 3rd time through the order in roughly half of his starts. In the last 2 years, Jake had allowed an .900+ (over 1.000 last year) OPS in his 3rd time through a batting order, compared to under .700 OPS the first 2 times. Some starts, Rocco has immediately jumped out of the clubhouse following the 9-hole hitter to pull him. He is selectively choosing which starts he lets Jake go a 3rd time. This season he is .575/.523/.625 (all a career best) each time through the order; whereas, .715/.745/.791 has been the AL average. The Resurrection of Jake the Snake has been a Cinderella story in the early going, and there’s reason to believe he can remain in the spotlight, even if he needs a little help.