The stove is finally giving off some feelings of warmth after several weeks of stagnation following the World Series. We have gotten a little bit of clarity around the futures of Shohei Otani and Giancarlo Stanton, and guys like Doug Fister and Miles Mikolas have found new homes. Our own Milwaukee Brewers slowly but surely continue their search for starting pitching, their primary focus of the 2017-18 offseason. David Stearns has indicated that he’s pursuing both free agency and trades in order to upgrade his roster, and one player who is believed to be available in a swap is old friend Jake Odorizzi of the Tampa Bay Rays.
Odorizzi, who will be 28 next spring, began his professional career back in 2008 when Milwaukee made him their selection at #32 overall in the draft. He was a well regarded prospect, of course, ranking in the top 100 by Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus for four straight seasons from 2011-2014. He ultimately helped the Brewers net Zack Greinke in the famous December 2010 trade with Kansas City, and was later shipped from the Royals to Tampa Bay as a part of the deal that netted Wade Davis and James Shields. Odorizzi briefly debuted in the big leagues with KC in 2012 and had a 7 appearance cup of coffee with Tampa Bay in 2013 before entrenching himself in the Rays’ rotation during the 2014 season.
Over the last four seasons since then, Odorizzi has established himself as a steady presence in the middle of Tampa Bay’s rotation. He’s made at least 28 starts each year and topped 160 innings three times in four seasons. His ERA has never risen above 4.14, nor his WHIP above 1.28. By Baseball Prospectus’ WARP calculation (based on Deserved Run Average), Odorizzi has been worth 9.7 wins above replacement during the four years he’s been a full-time big leaguer. His DRA- of 91 portrays him as a pitcher who has performed 9% better than the league-average in that span. For his career, the right-hander has authored a 3.83 ERA across 705.1 innings pitched.
Odorizzi’s top campaign came in 2015, when he tossed 169.1 innings while logging a 3.35 ERA. He struck out 150 batters against 46 walks for a career-best K/BB ratio of 3.26 that season, and he held opponents to a 26.9% hard-hit rate and a .229 batting average against. He wasn’t quite as strong as that this past season, however. Various injuries in 2017 (hamstring, back, foot) limited him to 28 starts and 143.1 innings pitched, and he was able to produce only a 4.14 ERA (which was still a shade better than league-average).
Odorizzi has always been a fly-ball pitcher (33.7% career ground ball rate), but in 2017 those balls began leaving the yard at an alarming rate. The juiced ball has caused home run rates to spike dramatically league-wide over the past two seasons, but even with that in mind the 1.9 HR/9 that Odorizzi coughed up was far worse than the league-average pitcher. He allowed the second-highest rate of hard contact that he’s given up in his career, and his walk rate increased to a career-worst 10.1% as only 40.1% of his pitches registered as in the strike zone (down from a 42.8% career total). His DRA- of 100 pegged Odorizzi as exactly a league-average pitcher overall in 2017, while FIP- (127) thought he was far worse than that.
It wasn’t all bad for Odorizzi in 2017, though. His fastball velocity remained steady, averaging 91.8 MPH (according to Pitch Info) which is right in line with his career mean of 92.0 MPH. He’ll throw the kitchen sink at you, too, mixing in a cutter, splitter, curveball, slider, and more rarely a sinker and changeup along with his four-seamer. Even though his 21% strikeout rate came in a hair below his career mark, the 11.2% swinging-strike rate that he induced was his highest total ever. He also finished the season with a flourish, posting a 1.03 ERA/2.89 FIP across his final five starts, with a 30:9 K/BB ratio and only two home runs allowed in 26.1 September innings. This, after reportedly tweaking his delivery heading into the second half of the season.
MLB Trade Rumors predicts he’ll land a $6.5 mil salary for the upcoming season, and budget constraints are reportedly pushing Tampa Bay towards dealing Odorizzi and other stalwarts before 2018 begins. Odorizzi isn’t an ace, but he is a proven, major-league caliber starting pitcher with two years of arbitration control remaining. Though he’s got a bit of an odd injury history, he’s avoided major arm issues and threw 187.2 innings as recently as 2016. Entering his age-28 season, he’s younger than just about every free agent starter out there and should be in the prime stage of his career. Assistant GM Matt Arnold is obviously quite familiar with Odorizzi from his time as a front office member in Tampa Bay, and he and David Stearns have not been averse to bringing in pitchers with high fly-ball rates (Guerra, Anderson, Milone, Espino, Wilkerson, etc).
Jake Odorizzi shouldn’t cost a prohibitive amount of prospect capital for a team to acquire this winter, and he won’t break the bank in terms of salary for the next two years before he reaches free agency. Given his track record, it’s reasonable to pencil him in for a baseline of 150 innings with a league-average ERA, effectively raising the floor of any pitching staff that he’d be added to. Craig Counsell said in a recent interview that his club needs to add MLB-caliber innings to its starting rotation for next season, and the Milwaukee Brewers could do worse than reacquiring one of its former top prospects.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball Prospectus and Fangraphs