Welcome, friends! Come, sit down, and let me tell you a tale of baseball. Indeed, baseball is truly America’s game, where the owners swim Scrooge McDuck-style in a vat of gold coins while shaking their canes vigorously at those thieves pounding at the door asking for some gruel. But you–yes, you!–fantasy lothario, with your fantasy baseball app at the ready and a sweaty finger hovering over the “draft” button, you can roster these needy players and give them the virtual coins they so deserve. Today, I’m offering a pitcher profile of Jake Odorizzi, and why you should consider him for a place on your team for the next 50, 70, or how ever many games MLB owners decide to let happen before they move their money vaults into the Norwegian tundra.
Because this is my first article with Razzball, I consulted Grey’s Secret Dictionary to see his definition of ‘pitcher,’ and here’s what it said: “1) a tool for mixing margaritas on Wednesday mornings, 2) players you don’t take early in a draft.” And that’s me quoting Grey! Wednesday Grey must have been deep into his routine of margs and Frasier reruns when he wrote the following on Odorizzi: “Odorizzi’s being drafted like a number three or four, but I see a strong number two.” Whoa, Grey, TMI! Let’s get down to business and see why you want this number two to work for you.
Let’s assume MLB has 50 games in 2020. I’ll do the math so you don’t have to break out your pocket calculator: that’s 9-12 pitching starts depending on a team’s rotation. Right now, the Twins have Jose Berrios at the top of the rotation, with Odorizzi slotted in at number two, and Kenta Maeda as the likely third starter. Unfortunately for me as a Twins stan, the remainder of the team’s starting rotation gets as ugly as your neighbor’s elderly schnauzer: Homer Bailey. That’s it. That’s the rotation. But fortunately for you, you smart drafter, you’re thinking ahead: a weak rotation is bad for all those normal seasons with the peanuts and Cracker Jacks, but if the Twins go with a four-man rotation in the Year of Our Covid Lord 2020, Odorizzi could get 11-12 starts. The shorter the season, the more you seek upside in counting stats. I’m bullish that Odorizzi could see 20-30% more wins and strikeouts than starters on deeper rotations.
Grey got all tingly in his minglies when he realized that in 2019 at the age of 29, Odorizzi overcame a ho-hum track record to have a strong 10 K/9 ratio. Last year, Odorizzi was 21st in the league for K/9 for pitchers above 150 IP. Although Odorizzi still had trouble with control–walking nearly three batters per nine–he limited home runs in a stunning change of form. In 2017, Odorizzi allowed an abysmal 1.88 HR/9 and was letting over 15% of his fly balls leave the park. But last year, Odorizzi dominated the strike zone to force batters into more ground balls and more infield pop-ups. As a result, Odorizzi crushed his HR/9 rate down to 0.91, good for 8th in the league and comparable to Marcus Stroman and Zack Greinke. Even better, Odorizzi made batters miss at pitches in the strike zone at the fifth best rate in the majors; the four better pitchers were Gerrit Cole, Lucas Giolito, Justin Verlander, and Max Scherzer. In other words, Odorizzi was missing bats frequently, and when hitters did make contact, the balls stayed in the park where the Twins’ stellar defense took over. That same defense is back in 2020, with the addition of plus-defender Josh Donaldson at the hot corner.
A drawback about Odorizzi is that he tends to pitch only to the fifth inning or so. Jeff Zimmerman found that Odorizzi made it the fifth inning in only 73% of his starts from 2017-2019. Although 2017 might have been an outlier because it was an awful year, Odorizzi has continued to average 5.2 innings per start through 2018 and 2019. This lack of innings is a critical point: if Odorizzi had pitched just ten more innings in 2019, his numbers would have been nearly the same as his teammate Jose Berrios, who is currently the 82nd player off the board on average.
According to FantasyPros, Odorizzi’s average draft position of 174 has him sandwiched between two Japanese starters, Kenta Maeda and Masahiro Tanaka (fun fact about Japanese sandwiches: Tony Bourdain craved gas station egg salad sandwiches). That means, when you finally took that vision board of BTS band members, pulled it off your wall, and turned it around to make your baseball draft board, you probably left off Odorizzi. Razzball’s own Son made a case for Odorizzi being a sleeper back in February, but apparently readers thought “sleeper” meant “don’t draft.” Four months later, Odorizzi is still available in 27% of ESPN leagues, 25% of Razzball Commenter Leagues, and 15% of Yahoo leagues. In my RazzSlam league, Odorizzi lasted until the 14th round when Razzball writer Coolwhip took him at pick 168. That means if you’ve already drafted your fantasy team, there’s a fair chance you can grab Odorizzi off the waiver wire before the start of the season. If you’re waiting to draft or doing daily fantasy, you’re going to find that Odorizzi is one of those low price, high performance pitchers you always dream about when you’re not dreaming of falling out of a ski chair into a yeti nest.
So here’s your mantra going into the draft: “Sleep easy with Odorizzi.”
On a month-by-month basis, Odorizzi remained under a 4.00 ERA throughout most of 2019. He had a rough outing on July 24, 2019, against the Yankees, who lit him up for 9 earned runs in four innings. However, the Twins had played a tough series with the Yankees, having used up 7 relief pitchers the previous night in extra innings, as well as four relievers in each of the previous two games. Odorizzi was meant to eat innings on July 24th, and the Twins lost momentum early when the Yankees challenged and overturned an out, resulting in a double for Edwin Encarnacion, who scored on the next play. If the Twins had a bullpen available that night, Odorizzi may have been pulled much earlier, making his counting stats even better. Indeed, 12% of the home runs Odorizzi allowed in 2019 occurred in that July 24th game.
If you’re playing daily fantasy or matchups, Odorizzi crushed the Detroit Tigers last year to the tune of a 1.88 ERA and .225 SLG with a 27:2 K/BB ratio in 24 innings. Against Cleveland, Odorizzi dominated with a 1.61 ERA, .304 SLG, and 29:10 K/BB ratio in 22 innings.
Both common players and industry players overlook Odorizzi. Odorizzi will get a lot of playing time on a good Twins team, and will be a plus contributor to your fantasy team in the Wins, ERA, and K categories while not hurting your WHIP. When you see your league starting a run of starting pitchers in the draft, you’re going to keep drafting bats because you know Jake Odorizzi will be there in the mid-teen rounds.
When you can get Berrios’ counting stats at half the price, I’d say that’s a time to let number two work for you. Sleep easy with Odorizzi.