Jake Odorizzi has been a rumored target for the Cubs the past two offseasons. It’s the same reasons as every other pitcher you’ve heard connected to the Cubs, which at this point is just about any pitcher under the age of 30. He’s young-ish, he’s cost-controlled for a few more years, he’s serviceable enough. And after last year, he’s going to come cheap. He probably won’t cost you any of the Four Players Of The Trade-acalypse at this point.
Still, his name didn’t exactly get you tingly in parts, good or bad ones. He’s rotation-filler. He takes the ball, and he generally doesn’t get turned into goo when he does. Except for last year.
But there might be more to it.
Other than a couple names out there this winter–Darvish, Archer, maybe Arrieta, Otani–teams are looking for pitchers where they see something that some other teams might not. Everyone wants to unearth a Charlie Morton or Rich Hill or the like. Usually this is done in the bullpen, where a slight change in grip gives a guy some doomsday cutter for like three years, he gets rich, he gets hurt, and you move onto the next one. But it does happen with starters.
Odorizzi was not good last year. He’s never been a high-strikeout guy, and he allows a ton of fly-balls. Given that hitters might still be making contact against glorified Titleists next year, this isn’t good. Odorizzi in his first three years didn’t walk a bunch of people, but he did have that problem last year. When you’re getting belted for 30 homers, you might get scared out of the strike zone. But he gave up 29 the year before. Maybe it was all cumulative. Whatever it was, it wasn’t pretty. Clearly walking 10% of the hitters you see isn’t the way forward.
But, let’s take a look at Odorizzi’s numbers in September: 26.1 innings, 30.9 K%, 9.3 BB%, 0.72 WHIP, a .114 average against, and a FIP of 2.89. Now, you may think that he just cleaned up against exhausted hitters longing for amphetamines and dreaming of golfing, and maybe that’s part of it. Except…
There was a change of approach from Odorizzi in the last month of the season. He dropped the use of his four-seamer and discovered a sinker. This also coincided with the complete stripping of a slider, and sometimes shortening up a slider gets called a sinker. Whatever it is, this became something of a main weapon. Hitters whiffed on 23% of the sinkers he threw in September, best of any of his pitches. Hitters hit only .067 against it in that last month.
Now, again, we’re only talking about 65 total pitches here. But it was a pitch that he hadn’t used before. It didn’t generate a ton of grounders, which is weird. But it also didn’t cause any hard contact either.
So this is basically what any team has scouted out of Odorizzi in that season’s final month. Do they think this new pitch, or altered pitch, is going to change his fortunes from here on out? Is this a diamond in the rough? Sure, Odorizzi isn’t going to maintain that month’s .143 BABIP and 67% LOB% over a full season. But those whiffs are those whiffs and that contact is that contact.
Again, even if this turns into a new Odorizzi, he’s not top of the rotation fodder. But there’s so little of that out there. And you can’t force it. Archer could cost the moon and comes with his own risks. Maybe it’s a good time to play a hunch.