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Breaking down Jake Odorizzi

Posted by John Olson , 20 February 2018 · 1,197 views

jake odorizzi twins

A Closer Look

At this point, with the Twins busy Presidents Day weekend now officially come to a close, it can be said that most people (and those who frequent Twins Daily, especially) are aware that the hometown club completed a trade with the Tampa Bay Rays for Jake Odorizzi. The trade, first reported on Saturday night, had the Twins receiving Jake Odorizzi from the Rays in exchange for mid-level shortstop prospect Jermaine Palacios. Many were waiting for the other shoe to drop, certainly the Twins were not going to get Odorizzi - straight up - for a single prospect, and certainly not if that prospect was outside of their top 10 or 15 rankings.

After all, Jermaine Palacios, while a nice prospect and grades well - especially defensively - is 21 years old and playing at High A ball. Keith Law ranked Palacios at 24th best and MLB.com listed him as their 27th best prospect, and well behind other more highly touted shortstops in the system - namely, Royce Lewis, Nick Gordon and Wander Javier.

So how is it that the Twins achieved this kind of trade? What does that say about Odorizzi?

The answer is probably much more complicated, Perhaps the Rays were, indeed, very smitten with Palacios. His tools do grade out to stick at shortstop, albeit his upside looks to be more of a utility man than a regular. It seems unlikely the Twins were bidding against themselves, to be able to get a straight 1 for 1 on Odorizzi, and he has been rumored to several other teams this offseason including the Angels, Nationals, Yankees and Orioles. How is it that among several teams vying for a competent major league pitcher, the Rays weren't able to add more than a single mid-level prospect in return?

Lets not forget, either, the Rays top prospect in their system - Willy Adames - is a shortstop and a potential star at the MLB level. Palacios figures to be, at minimum, blocked at the MLB level for several years by Adames who has already progressed to Double-A and was a Southern League All-Star.

The Rays not only traded Odorizzi for a single prospect, but the prospect they received is likely system depth? So perhaps the better question is, what does the trade say about the other clubs perceived value of Jake Odorizzi?

Who is Jake Odorizzi?

Depending on who you ask and under what context, you'll get a different answer to this question. Around Twins social media, I've seen such differing opinions - from "Should he be the Opening Day starter? He may be our best pitcher" to "He's, at best, a number 4 starter". I would contend that he is likely the middle ground between these two, very different statements.

As background, Odorizzi was a first round draft pick (2008 32nd Overall, Brewers), reaching Class A in the Brewers system. He was traded in the offseason following the 2009 season to the Kansas City Royals where he, by the 2011 season, was ranked as the Brewers number 1 prospect. While he wasn't the primary piece in the trade that sent him from Kansas City to Tampa Bay (Wil Myers headlined that blockbuster trade, sending James Shields and Wade Davis to Kansas City in exchange for Myers, Odorizzi, and two others.) he was a key element, ranking as the Royals 4th best prospect in their system at the time.

After receiving a cup of coffee in the majors in both 2012 and 2013, accruing only 37 innings pitched through those two seasons, he has 4 full seasons in the majors.

By standard metrics he's been a valuable mid-rotation arm - putting up ERA's of 4.13, 3.35 and 3.69 in 2014-'16, with park adjusted xFIP of 3.90, 3.96 and 4.44, respectively. His K/9 average during the first three seasons was a respectable 8.42, while maintaining an average HR/FB rate of 9.9%, or just slightly below the MLB average.

Wait. What about 2017?

Notice that I omitted 2017 from his stat lines? I thought you might. Odorizzi had, by most accounts, an abysmal 2017 season. Limited to 143.1 innings in 2017 after two trips to the Disabled List (hamstring, back injury), he saw regression in multiple areas. His ERA, at 4.14, the worst mark he's had since his rookie season - in conjunction with a horrid 5.43 FIP.

His 3.83 BB/9 mark fell well below league average and his HR/FB was an awful (almost impressively awful if I hadn't seen Kyle Gibsons 18%HR/FB mark) of 15% - all while seeing his GB% fall to 30.6%.

Unsurprisingly, Odorizzi gave up 30 home runs in 2017 and the long ball indeed was a crux, paired with a 7.52 ERA during the third trip though the order.

Fatigue, injury, and you can't even chalk it (all) up to bad luck, with a very low .227 BABIP.

So, what's the forecast for 2018?

Travis Sawchik of Fangraphs has a very compelling article that suggests Odorizzi may be an adjustment away from rectifying some of his issues from last season. His elevated four-seam fastball approach, which reached was tied for the highest 4S fastball height in the major leagues. Sawchik suggest that pairing the increased height with with increased height of his split-change, he may be losing "tunneling", or the vertical separation between the four-seamer and his split-change up, which generally produced his highest whiff rate (22%) in his arsenal of pitches.

Twins pitching coach, the newly hired Garvin Alston, has stressed that locating the fastball with his staff is a top priority and it would seem that as Odorizzi's fastball goes, so goes the season for Odorizzi.

As Brooks Baseball's player card for Odorizzi reads "(Odorizzi's) four-seam fastball generates an extremely high number of swings and misses compared to other pitchers fourseamers".

In a nutshell, if he can effectively locate his fastball and mix in his split-change up with better tunneling, his chances of returning to a pre-2017 Jake Odorizzi are fairly good.

How Good Is He?

Twins Pitching Analyst, Josh Kalk, hired this past December and formerly a Senior Analyst for the Tampa Bay Rays likely has as much information on Odorizzi as anyone, and it would follow that recommendations he may have had on Odorizzi held some weight in regards to the Twins trading for him. That said, what can we expect from him in the upcoming 2018 season?

Odorizzi, at 4 full years in the league, has shown the consistency (apart from 2017, which may or may not be an anomaly) of a number 3 or 4 starter, depending on the rotation he's placed in.

Baseball Reference has similar pitchers as Danny Salazar and Jeremy Hellickson - and if he pitches like pre-2017 Odorizzi is a fair comparision, though I would argue he would be a perfect bridge between those two pitchers. He won't miss as many bats as Salazar and will miss more bats than Hellickson, when on.

Salazar, when healthy (and maybe not pitching in the same rotation as Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco), is likely a number 2/3 (his peripherals are great, with 12.8 K/9 and a FIP of 3.48 - but he walks too many hitters) and Hellickson is likely a number 5 (if you wanted to look at worst case scenario of progression for Odorizzi, I would look at the staggering decline of Hellickson post-2016.)


So, no. I don't believe Odorizzi is the Twins best pitcher. Jose Berrios will likely hold that mantle this season, barring a trade for an established ace or a surprise signing of Jake Arrieta. Even Santana, if healthy and capable or repeating (or coming close to repeating) his 2017 season would provide superior results.

That said, the Odorizzi trade gave the Twins something they need - an arm capable of holding down a middle of the rotation spot, keep them in games and get some K's when needed. He slots nicely in between Berrios, Santana when he returns, with Gibson occupying the 4 spot.

Temper your expectations, Twins fans. We didn't sneak one by the Rays and snag a front of the rotation starter, but we did get a young, controllable, arbitration eligible middle of the rotation-type arm - for essentially a High A projected utility infielder. That's pretty impressive.

Twitter: @four_six_three

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