Odorizzi’s One-Hit Wonder | The Process Report

Odorizzi’s One-Hit Wonder

Jake Odorizzi was a foot away from making history. His own foot that is. A fourth-inning single by Astros’ second baseman Jose Altuve that deflected off the left foot of Odorizzi was the only hit allowed by the right-hander (and a pair of relievers) as Tampa Bay cruised to an easy 8-0 victory over Houston.

After a slow start to the season – highlighted by issues flipping a lineup over – Odorizzi has seemingly turned a corner in his young career. In April, opposing batters hit .330/.395/.479, scoring 18 times in 23 2/3 innings. He struck out 20 percent of batters faced.

Since then Odorizzi has been one of the league’s top starters. In the 10 starts since the season’s first month, he has allowed 19 runs in 54 innings. The opposition is hitting just .196/.267/.322 in their last 222 plate appearances against him. They have struck out in 31 percent of those appearances.

The difference between Odorizzi then and now appears to be rather simple. Two things have been repeated in this space quite often: the best pitch in baseball remains a well-located fastball and sometimes you just have to get primal with that heater. The 24-year-old has increased his fastball usage by nearly 10 percent since April. He has also consistently located it above his counterparts hands not allowing the competition to get under the low-90s fastball.

Overall, Odorizzi has struck out 27.4 percent of batters faced – the sixth highest mark in the majors. The names above him are: Felix Hernandez, David Price, Stephen Strasburg, Masahiro Tanaka and Yu Darvish. Of his 91 punchouts, 56 have come on his fastball. The pitch lacks top-shelf velocity, but is still packing a punch because of how and when he is using it.

Speaking on his young pitcher’s fastball, and what some would perceive as lack of velocity, Rays’ Manager Joe Maddon said “sometimes guys are married to the gun. They’ll see like that the number’s not big enough, they don’t think it’s good enough and that’s not true. There are characteristics to the fastball that make it difficult and he (Odorizzi) has that.”

Odorizzi’s fastball is possibly getting a boost – not in radar reading, but effectiveness – from the split-change he learned from Alex Cobb. While fastballs account for 62 percent of his strikeouts, “the thing” is responsible for nearly all of the remaining balance. The threat of 85 mph arm-side and down is likely enhancing the 90-92 mph located in the upper reaches of the zone. The changing of eye levels has been a key part of his recent success.

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Last year I spoke to Process Report consultant, Eric Knott, about the importance of changing eye level. Here is what the former major-leaguer had to say. “Releasing a fastball up in the zone shows the hitter something released from the same arm slot and release point as an off-speed pitch that ends up down in the zone” he said. “Once a hitter sees/thinks fastball, he will speed up his decision to swing or not.” With this in mind, it comes as no shock to learn that 80 percent of Odorizzi strikeouts have ended with a swing and a miss.

On Saturday, Odorizzi gave the Astros’ batter an ultimatum: cheat on the fastball and be early on the off-speed or wait on the off-speed and be late on the fastball. The Astros failed to answer the call on 10 occasions, striking out eight times on the fastball and twice on the split. Houston whiffed on 22 swings – a career-high for Odorizzi – including nine with two strikes and 17 on fastballs overall.

When asked about using his fastball for eight of 10 strikeouts, Odorizzi said “it’s kind of by design, we do that a lot. It looks good to the hitters and it’s tough to lay off, so it works.”

It sure has.



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