Because of other Labor Day shenanigans, I wasn't able to watch any of today's Twins-Tigers game, but listened to the opening innings. As if oft my wont, I had the opposition's broadcast chosen so I got to hear the Tigers' radio guys demonstrate their love for the Minnesota Twins. One of the most valuable things about listening to opposing teams' broadcasts this season is to hear the amount of respect this Twins team has around the league. But one thing struck me as perhaps going a bit too far, and that was a comment that the Twins were like the Astros in terms of being able to provide an analytical improvement to a pitcher. They were specifically talking about Jake Odorizzi and commenting on how the Twins had made him a better pitcher by having him throw his fastball more often and higher in the zone. This was compared to what the Astros have done with pitcher such as our old friend Ryan Pressly.
As I said, this caught my ears unawares because I often think of this as one of the Twins' areas of need, as they (and it was this front office group) who let Pressly go and have watched him thrive in Houston. But I wanted to give it a look to see if there is anything to the idea that Odorizzi has changed his approach since coming from the Rays.
First some basic statistic conversation about Odorizzi's value. In his 4+ years with the Rays (2013-2017 with 2013 being very limited), Odorizzi earned an ERA+ of 103, a FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) of 4.22 and earned 8.2 bWAR. In his two years thus far with the Twins, that compares to an ERA+ of 108, a FIP of 3.96 and a bWAR of 4.5. The majority of this value has come in 2019 as his ERA+ is 128. This compares to his Rays high of 117 in 2015. So 2019 has been the best year of his career, but 2018 was not: in fact, his first year with the Twins saw an ERA+ of 95. So the first thing to say is that if the Twins have done something special with him, it was not until this year.
Then I began to dig into pitch distribution, as the Tigers' radio team suggested. This year, according to Statcast, Odorizzi has thrown 56.4% 4-seam fastballs, 19.1% cutters, 17.1% splitters, and 7.4% curveballs. This IS the highest percentage of 4-seamers since his first two years in the league, but the trend has been consistently upward since a low of 31.1% in 2016, before he became a Twin. The splitter and curveball have not changed significantly. The big change, according to the way Statcast charts these pitches, is in this: in 2019, Odorizzi has not thrown a slider, a pitch he threw 21% of the time in 2018 which was the highest percentage of his career. He has swapped that pitch for a huge increase in his use of a cutter, at 19.1% in 2019 from a low of 2.4% in 2018 and surpassing the previous career high of 12.4% in his previous career year of 2015.
So, based on comparing pitch usage in 2019 to 2018 (a down year) and 2015 (his previous career year) it would seem that the consistent pattern for good Odorizzi is: throw more cutters, scrap the slider, and keep the 4-seamer going. Perhaps, given some strangeness in the data and the fungibleness of these definitions, the same pitch that used to register as a slider is now reading as a cutter. But either way, the change in that pitch seems to be the change that connects Odorizzi's quality 2019 to 2015.