Jake Odorizzi was selected by the Brewers in the supplemental round with a pick that was gained from the loss of Francisco Cordero. Taken out of high school, the then-18-year-old was described in his first Annual comment as “extremely athletic and projectable.” He made enough of a name for himself over the next couple of seasons to be included as part of the package that sent Zack Greinke to Milwaukee. Odorizzi continued his progress in the Royals’ system, finding himself on BP’s Top 101 prospect list in each of the four years after the trade, with one year in the top 50. Of course, he would eventually find his way out of the Royals’ system after yet another trade for an All-Star pitcher, this time being sent to Tampa Bay as part of the much-maligned James Shields swap. Fast-forward to present-day, and he’s no longer than young, projectable pitcher. He has two full seasons as a Ray under his belt, and enters this season being selected as the 43rd starting pitcher in NFBC drafts.
What Went Right in 2015?
In his first full season in 2014, Odorizzi had strong strikeout numbers but his overall production was undone by his control and command. Luckily for him, both of those improved in 2015. Starting with the control, he got his walk rate back down to a manageable 2.4 per nine innings. There’s some skepticism in these numbers as he didn’t hit the zone any more than he did two years ago, but there’s reason for optimism as well. Specifically, he induced far more swings on his balls out of the strike zone. It’s not the best way to avoid walks, of course, but it certainly does the trick. He’ll never be Greinke in this regard, but he should be able to stay near the middle of the pack in walk rate and keep his WHIP manageable.
The now-26-year-old also watched his command improve in his second season. Although he’ll always be more of a flyball pitcher, he added more groundballs into his game, upping his rate to 40 percent. This helped reduce his home-run rate ever so slightly, and bring his opponents’ BABIP down to .271.
Finally, Odorizzi was fantastic against left-handed bats in 2015, as they posted a TAv of just .238 against the righty. The peripherals backed that production up, too, as he struck out a quarter of the lefties he faced while walking less than five percent of them. This doesn’t look like much of a fluke, either, as the results were even better in 2014. The biggest key for Odorizzi in this respect is the use of his splitter, which induces a whiff on 27 percent of swings from lefties. He also has a lot of success with his curveball, against which lefties have posted an .083 ISO and .191 BABIP. He throws both pitches far more often to lefties than he does to righties.
What Went Wrong in 2015?
Although the command and control improved in his second full season, the strikeout numbers fell off. After setting down over a batter per inning in 2014, his K/9 fell to 8.0 last year. It doesn’t feel like much of a drop-off, but it put him all the way back to the middle of the pack of qualified starters last season. Looking at past results and scouting reports, this is the level one should expect him to stay at. If he can continue to keep his command and control in check, it still makes him a fine fantasy option, but the upside is obviously much lower in this scenario.
There is also the other side of the platoon-split coin. While he’s been borderline dominant against lefties, righties have had much more success. To wit, they posted a .264 TAv last year with a .270 multi-year mark. Once again, the peripherals back up the results. In this case, Odorizzi struck out just 16 percent of batters while walking nine percent, ending up with an atrocious 5.28 FIP against righties. This is clearly concerning given how many more right-handed bats are out there compared to lefties.
What to Expect in 2016
Overall, I’d expect a similar performance that we’ve gotten from Odorizzi over the past couple of years, with him finishing as a low-end SP3 or high-end SP4. As long as he’s with the Rays, it’s expected that his innings will be limited to avoid him facing lineups for a third time through. This will limit his value in counting categories, but it should also boost his ERA and WHIP. There is still plenty of upside left, but the downside exists as well. The results against righties scare me the most, as it’s been consistent throughout his career and has come in a much larger sample than his results against lefties. Whether or not he makes any changes against right-handed bats is the biggest thing I’ll be looking for from Odorizzi in his early performance.
The Great Beyond
Despite the relative negativity heading into this season, Odorizzi still a valuable dynasty chip. At the end of the day, he's just entering his prime and is in an organization that has had plenty of success developing pitchers. Playing in a park that limits home runs also helps a pitcher with his batted-ball profile. With that being said, he’ll also be entering arbitration after this year and could be traded at some point in the near future. If you can find someone who believes heavily in his 2014 strikeout numbers, Odorizzi could be a solid trade candidate. In most cases, however, he’s someone I’d hold on to for now. There’s plenty of risk with Odorizzi, but the safety of Tampa Bay plus the possibility of him figuring things out against righties gives him a fair amount of upside as well.
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