Coming into this season, it was thought that Jake Odorizzi would be a nice middle to back-end of the rotation starter. He had shown durability and good command, however it didn’t seem that he would rack up a plethora of strikeouts given his stuff. However Odorizzi added a split-changeup to his arsenal and the Rays worked with him on using his fastball to a greater advantage by elevating it up in the zone. Because of that, Odorizzi’s 9.7 K/9 leads current rotation members, and he has shown a greater ability to strikeout hitters than anyone thought he was capable of. Also, Odorizzi lacks just 10 k’s to break the Rays’ record for most strikeouts in a rookie season, which currently sits at 175.
The crazy part is when you consider whose record Odorizzi is likely going to be breaking- Matt Moore, who was expected to strikeout plenty of hitters upon reaching the big leagues. He had plus stuff from the left-side, and he was a consensus top 5 prospect in baseball before he cracked the big league rotation. Odorizzi, on the other hand, was highly regarded, but he was never given the true ace potential that was thrown around with Moore. You also have to consider how many talented pitchers the Rays have had over the years, yet Odorizzi is about to strikeout more in his rookie season than any of them did.
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They key difference between Odorizzi and a guy like Moore is that Odorizzi knows how to use his stuff. Moore can get by with iffy command and pitchability at times because of his stuff. His fastball averaged 95.16 MPH in his rookie year, per Brooks Baseball, and his curveball and changeup are devastating pitches. Meanwhile Odorizzi’s fastball has averaged just 91.58 MPH this season. He does have an above-average or fringe plus pitch in his split-changeup, and he adds a decent curve and slider, but his overall stuff does not match up to Moore’s. Rather, Odorizzi has great command of all of his stuff, and he knows how to use it. A batter will see an 83 MPH split-change from Odorizzi that is dips down and out of the zone, and then the very next pitch he sees a 92 MPH fastball that seemingly rises up and out of the zone. That is difficult to hit, and Odorizzi takes advantage of that sequence.
Overall you have to love what Odorizzi has shown this year. After struggling to a 6.83 ERA through his first 6 starts, Odorizzi learned how to use his stuff to his advantage, and since then he has posted a 3.19 ERA over his last 22 starts. Now Odorizzi is on the cusp of just one more impressive feat, and he will likely break the Rays’ rookie strikeout record in his next start or two.