Jake Odorizzi Could Be the Next Great Rays Starter

By Robbie Knopf

The 2014 season has continued to improve for Jake Odorizzi, yet the complaints about him from Tampa Bay Rays fans have not ceased. In spring training, he was pitching extremely well, but there were calls to return him to Triple-A for vague “additional development.” Then, after a great first start, he began to struggle his second time through batting orders, and everyone lost their minds. People wanted the Rays to give up on their 24 year old right-hander and simply make him a long reliever because “he was never going to figure it out.” He made an adjustment in his May 3rd start that spurred an outstanding run beginning in his next start, but no one particularly cared. Even though Odorizzi had figured it out and had managed an ERA in this mid-3.00’s for five or six starts, people still wanted him to be demoted to Triple-A when Jeremy Hellickson returned, with Erik Bedard staying on the roster. Have we ever seen a Rays pitching prospect who has been a lightning rod for criticism from fans as much as Odorizzi?

At the end of the day, the reasoning is pretty simple: he entered his last start with a 2-7 record and a 4.85 ERA, and people refused to look past those and see the positives. We knew going in that he was not as highly touted as Matt Moore or Chris Archer, and fans saw his struggles as him pitching the was he was supposed to. He was never going to get much better. Jake Odorizzi became the symbol of all of the Rays’ struggles–in previous seasons, the number one pitching prospect came through, while this year it simply didn’t happen. Similar logic could be applied to just about all of the Rays’ issues. However, after another outstanding outing from Jake Odorizzi, everyone is finally starting to acknowledge how talented he truly is.

Suddenly Jake Odorizzi’s stands at a respectable 4.29, and his ability to strike out hitters has turned into something special. His 91 strikeouts lead all major league rookies not named Masahiro Tanaka, and his 10.55 strikeouts per 9 innings actually top Tanaka’s for the best among AL rookies minimum 45 innings pitched. As a whole, his strikeouts per 9 innings are actually fourth in baseball among major league starters behind three guys you may have heard of: Clayton Kershaw, Stephen Strasburg, and Yu Darvish. Jake Odorizzi is continuing to make adjustments, and it will be a while before he reaches that echelon of pitcher if he ever does. But even amid a rookie season that has prompted so many complaints, Odorizzi has shown the ability to be yet another Rays starting pitcher with the ability to be among the best in baseball.

Everything has changed for Jake Odorizzi in his last nine starts to the tune of a 2.88 ERA and a 65-16 strikeout to walk ratio in 50 innings pitched. He is mixing his pitches better, integrating more sliders and curveballs into his arsenal while saving his split-change for when he needs it most, and suddenly the second and third times through the order are challenges he can overcome. He is gaining confidence on the mound and realizing that he has the ability to not only stay in the major leagues, but also overpower opposing hitters. Odorizzi will have his struggles and he may not be quite has good as this moving forward. Now we are realizing, though, just how dominant he has the ability to be, and he just might get there before long.