Odorizzi Not Twice As Nice, Again
The Yankees went into yesterday’s game against Jake Odorizzi with eight left-handed batters in their lineup for good reason. Heading into yesterday, left-handed batters had a career slash line of .306/.367/.517 against Odorizzi. Opponents also strikeout fewer times when batting left-handed (15.7%) than they do batting right-handed (21.9%).
Those splits were the primary reason why Odorizzi sought Alex Cobb’s advice on how to develop the split-changeup as he wanted something else as he tried to reduce the splits in his outcomes. While he has the new pitch, and is getting more strikeouts against left-handed batters, the overall results are even worse than they were last season.
The primary reason for Odorizzi’s struggles this season is each outing is truly two separate events – the first time through the lineup and the rest of the game.
In six starts this season, Odorizzi has held all opposing batters to a .140/.189/.200 slash line the first time through a lineup. The components that drive that slash line rank extremely high against his peers as each are in the top tenth percentile. Despite those lofty numbers, there are some signs of concern in his other indicators during that first time through the lineup as many of them are below the league average.
All but his swing and miss percentage are below 50% as that split-change is a swing and miss weapon his first time through the lineup. Odorizzi does not induce a lot of swings the first time through, and also does not have many balls put into play. That is due to the fact that batters spoil his pitches at a high rate. The first time through the lineup, batters have fouled off 55 of the 261 pitches Odorizzi has thrown, which is the fifth-highest total in baseball behind the likes of Ian Kennedy, Jon Lester, Nate Eovaldi, and Jorge De La Rosa.
This kind of struggle was most evident yesterday the first time Odorizzi faced Yangervis Solarte. Through the first eight batters of the game, Odorizzi had needed just 36 pitches to send each back to the dugout. Odorizzi needed 12 pitches to retire Solarte, which encapsulated Odorizzi’s struggles as well as his limitations.
He was able to get to a 2-2 count against Solarte in just four pitches as a 2-1 changeup was fouled away. Solarte proceeded to then foul off five of the next six pitches before lining out to Wil Myers on a full-count fastball.
That left his pitch count at 48 after the first time through the lineup, which was the fifth consecutive start Odorizzi has needed at least 40 pitches to turn the lineup over:
- 4/4/14 vs Texas – 39 pitches
- 4/9/14 vs Kansas City – 40 pitches
- 4/16/14 vs Baltimore – 42 pitches
- 4/23/14 vs Minnesota – 52 pitches
- 4/28/14 vs Chicago – 40 pitches
- 5/3/14 vs New York – 48 pitches
Those kind of pitch totals are going to happen for a pitcher that lacks true swing and miss stuff, but they will also happen for a pitcher that eliminates some of the guess work for batters. The pitfalls of that type of process were explained by Greg Holland of the Kansas City Royals this offseason:
“Pitchers like to pitch on the outer half of the plate — away — because it’s hard to hit a pitch on the outer half of the plate out of the park. Stay on the outer half and, unless the guy has unusual opposite-field power, he’s likely to stay in the park. But continually pitch on the outer half — away, away, away — and hitters start to “dive.” They stride toward the outer half of the plate and now, as far as the hitter is concerned, that pitch on the outside corner is right down the middle.”
Odorizzi’s tendencies to pitch away are more evident when he is facing left-handed batters, but the heap maps below show the frequency in which Odorizzi locates his pitches to each type of batter:
What exacerbates these struggles is that not only does Odorizzi eliminate the guesswork in terms of where he will locate, but he essentially a two-pitch pitcher against left-handed batters. As the Solarte at bat showed, Odorizzi primarily attacks left-handed batters with fastballs and changeups. He has thrown those pitches 89% of the time to left-handed batters, which is why Solarte was able to stay alive so long in the at bat after falling behind 2-2. He knew the pitch would be located away, but just had to look for two pitch types out of Odorizzi’s hand and figure out the elevation of the pitch.
Coming into the outing, there were reports that Jim Hickey had worked with Odorizzi on “a series of adjustments” in hopes of ending these types of struggles. Maddon has also been critical of Odorizzi being “too cute” and wanting him to utilize his fastball more frequently the second time through. With those bits of knowledge, the Yankees may not have been exactly certain what adjustments Odorizzi was going to make the second time through. The Solarte at bat should have earned him MVP honors in the game because it allowed his teammates to confirm their scouting reports that said Odorizzi was in-fact going to test the definition of insanity and utilize most of the same process that had failed him in his four previous outing and expect different results.
It did not.
While Odorizzi did utilize his fastball more frequently this time, he went back to the same pitch utilization and location sequences that got him into trouble in his previous outings. He threw 33 pitches to the left-handed batters yesterday after turning the lineup over, 29 of which were fastballs and nearly every pitch is where it was the first time the batter came up.
That allowed the batters to do exactly what Greg Holland said in his quote – stride out and view the outer part of the plate right down the middle. The Yankees swung at 12 pitches, missing just once, and had five hard-hit balls before chasing Odorizzi out of the game. The only ball that was pulled for a hard hit was the home run by Mark Teixeira that came off an 89-mph fastball right over the heart of the plate (noted in graphic below). The other well-struck balls in the outing each went to the opposite field and came off fastballs away in which the batter leaned out and swung with authority without fear of impunity.
Maddon and Odorizzi had this to say after the game yesterday:
“He was throwing so well. He really was,” Maddon said. “And all of a sudden, it just kind of went away. We’ve got to get him past that.”
Odorizzi, a 24-year-old rookie pushed by injuries into the No. 3 starter’s slot, insisted he didn’t do anything different as the game went on — working away from most hitters — but suggested maybe he should have.
“We didn’t change anything. There wasn’t much to change the first three (innings),” he said. “We could have done something different, looking back on it, but we kept the game plan. It worked well. They just hit it where it was pitched.”
It is puzzling to hear these types of comments after an outing that went just like the four previous outings. Odorizzi’s last five outings have resembled baseball’s version of Groundhog Day. Phil Connors was able to figure it out in the movie, and perhaps Odorizzi will get to that point in the near future. After yesterday’s outing, the differences in outcomes for him the first time through the lineup and the rest of the game are stunning.
Well Hit Avg
In an ideal world, the Rays would not have three pitchers on the disabled list and one on the suspended list and would be able to send Odorizzi back to Durham work through this issue. That perfect world will not be in place for at least another four weeks. With Cesar Ramos and Erik Bedard unable to work more than five innings in a start, the last thing the Rays need is their 3rd starter to be a three-and-flee or four-and-the-door pitcher. Perhaps the team could put him into the bullpen as the long man and allow him to see some short-term success, but they do not seem willing to do that right now. Whether that speaks to their belief in the pitcher or lack of confidence in the options in the minors is debatable, but Odorizzi cannot continue to go out there and utilize the same process and expect different results.
Yesterday, Odorizzi made a slight change to his process and tried to go primal with his fastball the second time through the lineup, but made no adjustments to where he located the pitch and the Yankees made him pay for it. Perhaps next time out when he faces Cleveland, he can work on the location portion because that lineup will contain left-handed batters in Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher, Michael Brantley, Carlos Santana, Lonnie Chisenhall, Asdrubal Cabrera, Jason Giambi, and Daniel Murphy.