Odorizzi and Righties
The no-doubter Ronald Torreyes hit off Jake Odorizzi the other night highlighted an issue that Odorizzi has. No, not the issue with homers because that is a by-product of living off high heat and split-changeups. If the fastball does not get high enough or the splitter does not dive enough, both will get hit hard. The issue with that plate appearance is that Odorizzi’s margin for error is exacerbated when he is facing righties.
Odorizzi’s approach from the mound has been rather consistent in his time with Tampa Bay. Everything begins off the fastball, which he often uses high in the zone enticing batters to chase the pitch or pop it up. Once the eyes are focused up in the zone, he uses the splangeup down to get batters to swing over the pitch or make weak contact to an infielder. Those two pitches are responsible for 90 percent of his pitches to lefties with the remaining percentage coming from using the occasional cutter or breaking ball.
That combination of heater and cambio has served him well over the past two seasons as his wOBA against lefties has been in the 96th percentile league wide for all pitchers with at least 1500 pitches thrown trailing only Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, Josh Tomlin, and Stephen Strasburg.
The approach to lefties is one where he uses the tertiary pitches mostly to keep batters honest on the inner half while using the fastball to the upper half of the zone and the changeup low and away.
The changeup gets most of the attention, but its Odorizzi’s fastball that is his key pitch. James Shields used his changeup as a legit strikeout weapon as has Alex Cobb in his time here. Odorizzi’s changeup is more of a pitch to help his fastball look better. The table below shows how his fastball and changeup compare against the league averages against lefites as well as his percentile for each statistic:
Odorizzi’s velocity is league average these days, but as one of the lead disciples of the Cult of the High Fastball, he is preaching the gospel from the mound. As he told Tyler Kepner of the New York Times, “You can see it (the high fastball), but you can’t hit it – and it’s just a straight fastball. It’s a good weapon if you can do it.”
Against righties, things are a bit different. Odorizzi does not completely abandon the right-on-right changeup, but he certainly throws it less frequently.
The approach against righties consists of spinning sliders and cutters to the outer half of the zone, changeups down and in, and fastballs to the upper half of the zone. Visually, the pitch concentration has looked like this:
The combination of Odorizzi’s fastball and changeup do not get the same results against righties. That is understandable given the changeup is going to be down or down and in, which allows pull hitters to get out in front of the pitch to get harder contact. Lefty pull hitters ahead of the changeup are going to go over top of the pitch or roll over. Additionally, the fastball and changeups are mostly thrown to the outer half against lefties so the batter can be caught in between looking for one pitch or ther other. Against righties, the two pitches are utilized to different parts of the zone so they do not enhance one another as much as they do against lefties. Odorizzi’s fastball is still above the league average for swinging strikes, being put into play, and chasing out of the zone, but his wOBA when using fastballs is below league average. For changeups, the numbers are below league average nearly across the board.
Then we have the other pitches, which are not much of a factor against lefties but are very much in play against righties. The slider, the cutter, and curveball pop up in the f/x data. We’ll focus on the cutter and slider since they make up nearly all of his non-fastballs and changeups.
No need to sugar coat things; these offerings are very hittable. In fact, Odorizzi’s slider had the worst swinging strike rate against righties for all qualified pitchers and his cutter was nearly the worst. The pitch plot below shows the 500 most recent sliders and cutters he has used to righties:
Odorizzi has generally worked away with these pitches, rarely coming in with the pitches while using the fastball to both sides and up and the changeup down and in.
The approach to lefties has been very good to him, but the approach to righties has not. The lack of a quality pitch to spin away from righties leaves him susceptible to teams laden with righties. The right-handed batters in the league have a .343 wOBA against Odorizzi since the start of the 2015 season, which puts him in the bottom third of the league.The last time he faced Toronto (9/12/16), he used a very heavy fastball approach with them much like Chris Archer did in last night’s victory.
Odorizzi has shown the ability to adjust to struggles in the past. He picked up the splangeup when he needed that change of pace and has put the inability to get through a lineup a third time mostly behind him. The next issue is to find a way to limit the difference in his abilities to neutralize lefties and righties. Perhaps that issue could be addressed by using some front door cutters and sliders to give batters a new look, or just go heavier with the fastball. We will see what he does in today’s matchup against Toronto who has stacked six righties into the lineup against him.