Is Rays’ Jake Odorizzi Better Than We Thought?


No matter how Jake Odorizzi does today versus the Miami Marlins, it won’t tell us too much about his future as a pitcher. If he pitches well, it’s coming against a feeble Marlins lineup and if he sputters, it’s only one game. What will tell us a lot more about how he will turn out as a major league pitcher will be his repertoire. Odorizzi has been a pitcher who has gotten excellent minor league results his entire career yet has seen his prospect stock go down in recent years because scouts were not as sold his pitches were good enough to sustain such results. Looking at the Pitch F/X data from Odorizzi’s first start from Brooks Baseball in my original display, hopefully we can begin to understand whether those scouts will be right or not.

Looking at the graph, we can see that Odorizzi throws four distinct pitches plus his sinker, which is his fastball with a little less velocity and some more more movement. We also see that this isn’t a case where Odorizzi is a three-pitch guy who mixes in a rare fourth offering–he throws all of his pitches relatively often. That isn’t necessarily a good thing. The fact that Odorizzi throws that many pitches as a top prospect immediately raises a red flag because top pitching prospects usually come to the majors with three pitches and maybe learn a fourth as big league hitters adjust to them. For pitchers, quality is much more important than quantity, with three great pitches being immeasurably better than six halfway-decent ones, and Odorizzi throws three different secondary pitches has to make you think that none of them is very good. Luckily, though, that isn’t exactly what’s happening. It isn’t that his secondary offerings are bad, just that he’s still improving them.

This isn’t a case where Odorizzi throws a straight fastball, a slider without great break, a loopy curveball, and a mediocre changeup and hopes to beat hitters simply by mixing them up. All of Odorizzi’s pitches show flashes, and the key for him is to try to make them more consistent. Odorizzi’s fastball features good late life and run and sink when he takes some velocity off it (his sinker), but he needs to work on commanding them better down in the zone to force more groundballs. Odorizzi threw it under half the time in his first start, and unless he improves it, he may not throw it more than that too often, making him very dependent on his secondary pitches for now. Odorizzi’s slider is his security blanket as the one pitch he does a great job commanding to force weak contact on the ground. It doesn’t feature the most overbearing movement, but he sells it as his fastball out of his hand and keeps hitters off-balance with it. With any luck, though, Odorizzi’s slider will someday be his fourth-best pitch.

Odorizzi’s most promising offering is his low-70’s curveball, which is a huge change of pace from his fastball with a 20 MPH difference. Odorizzi’s features sharp action and substantial depth, enough to beat hitters even when they recognize it out of his hand. The issue is that Odorizzi struggles mightily using it for anything but a chase pitch as this point, and he’s going to have to establish that he can throw it for called strikes for major league hitters to swing at it in the long-term. Then there’s Odorizzi’s changeup, which looks like his fastball before featuring great sink and run. Once again, though, Odorizzi has to do a better job locating it. Odorizzi basically has to himself ahead in the count with his fastball to make his arsenal work and of course that’s an issue because he leaves too many fastballs up in the zone. So essentially, Odorizzi is stuck throwing his fastball as often as he possibly can without getting hit hard and relying heavily on his pitch with the fourth-best movement to provide a change of pace hoping he can get to two strikes and go to work with his curveball and changeup.

Evaluators say that Odorizzi’s lack of a strong offering behind his fastball limits his upside to a third or fourth starter. That very well may be the case, but with continued improvement on his command of his fastball, curveball, and changeup, Odorizzi still has a chance to be an excellent pitcher. Asking him to develop three different pitches so significantly in the major leagues may be too much to ask and there’s a very high probability that Odorizzi ends up back at Triple-A to keep working on that even if he manages to pitch well while David Price is out. But the present and future may be different issues for Odorizzi and the Rays. At this moment, Odorizzi has enough of his pitches ready to go to be a solid back-of-the-rotation starter in the major leagues. In the future, though, the Rays can hope that everything will eventually come together and Odorizzi will be much more dominant next time he’s on their roster if not right now. When we watch Odorizzi today, we can see his flashes and visualize his future dominance no matter how he pitches.