What Do We Make of Jake Odorizzi’s Rookie Year?

By Robbie Knopf

It was August 18th, and the Tampa Bay Rays’ rookie right-hander was showing that he was the so-so pitching prospect that he was built up to be. He was 7-8 with a 4.74 ERA, and while his peripherals looked good, he just continued to leave too many pitches up in the zone and get hit hard. The Rays knew he was talented–he had shown it in his stint with the team the prior year–but he simply did not have the stuff of previous Rays starting pitchers and he was going to be a back-of-the-rotation pitcher. Then, the right-hander finished the season on a roll, managing a 2.49 ERA in his final 7 starts of the season to enter the following year with plenty of optimism. That pitcher–Alex Cobb–now ranks among the Tampa Bay Rays’ best, and there is reason to think that Jake Odorizzi can follow suit.

Odorizzi is now 2-7 with a 4.85 ERA in 13 starts and 65 innings pitched. Those certainly are not the type of numbers he was hoping for. But here is the thing–he has already turned the corner and there is reason to think that he can continue doing so. In his last seven starts, he may be 1-4, but he has a 3.38 ERA, striking out 50 while walking just 12 in 37.1 innings pitched. Jake Odorizzi is certainly a different pitcher from Cobb–instead of being a groundball guy, he is a flyball pitcher who compensates by recording a lot of strikeouts. However, the two pitchers’ arsenals are very similar–with, of course, Cobb teaching Odorizzi his split-change–and a lot of things that we said about Cobb hold true of Odorizzi.

Jake Odorizzi still has work to do as he hopes to become an effective major league pitcher. He has to continue improving his fastball command and do a better job attacking hitters in divergent ways as games progress so he can work deeper into contests. With a fastball averaging 92 MPH instead of 93 or 94, Odorizzi doesn’t have the margin for error of previous Rays pitching prospects like Matt Moore and Chris Archer. But don’t look at his record and his ERA and say that he can’t do this. Don’t think that Jeremy Hellickson will come off the DL and the Rays are going to tell Odorizzi that the progress he made is insufficient for him to stay on their big league roster. Jake Odorizzi can be an impact starting pitcher for the Tampa Bay Rays, and he is making the adjustments needed to get there. He won’t win Rookie of the Year, but this is a rookie season that has shown Odorizzi exactly what he needs to do to continue his development, and his performance will only get better from here.