Astros: Fixing Jake Odorizzi won’t be easy

Jun 21, 2021; Baltimore, Maryland, USA; Houston Astros pitcher Jake Odorizzi (17) throws a pitch in the first inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 21, 2021; Baltimore, Maryland, USA; Houston Astros pitcher Jake Odorizzi (17) throws a pitch in the first inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports /
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Whether in Little League, high school, college or at the professional level, if you’ve ever pitched at one time or another you’ve almost certainly been where Jake Odorizzi is.

The stakes weren’t as high, the pressure wasn’t the same and you weren’t as scrutinized, but you likely know what it feels like when your go to pitch deserts you.  When the pitch you have relied on and planned to use to devastated batters just isn’t working. At all.

Odorizzi is in a funk, which could be the understatement of the year. In 14 starts he’s completed six innings only twice, in back to back starts on July 3rd and 9th, his final two starts before the All-Star break. It looked like he may be turning the corner, becoming the insurance policy that general manager James Click signed him to be for the Houston Astros.

The Astros’ rotation was flipped in leverage compared to the bullpen, as Jake Odorizzi’s advanced metrics continue to disappoint.

Since the break? 3.1, 4.2, 5.1 and 3 inning starts, an 8.82 ERA and 1.84 WHIP. I see a struggling pitcher, with terrible body language, lacking in confidence. “It sucks to suck”, Odorizzi was quoted as saying after Wednesday’s game. He looks like he’d rather be anywhere but on the mound.

Odorizzi’s mechanics are out of whack and when a pitch does find the zone lately it’s also found the outfield stands, like Wednesday when Odorizzi gave up 4 home runs in that ugly three inning stint in Los Angeles. Odorizzi relies on a four-seam fastball 56% of the time and it hasn’t been very good.  Three of them were hit out of Dodger Stadium Wednesday (Betts first home run came on a slider).

Opponents are batting .273 and slugging .501 against Odorizzi’s fastball, but to be fair a good chunk of that slugging happened Wednesday night. To top it off he’s lost command. Prior to the break Odorizzi walked 12 of 186 batters (6.5%). Post break he’s walked nine of 80 (11.3%).

There’s been a decline in his fastball spin from 2017 (2285) to 2018 (2255) to 2019 (2236) to 2020 (2237) to this season (2112) and a drop in velocity from 2019 and 2020 (92.9) to this season (92.2). His put away % on the pitch has dropped from 21.6% in 2019 to 18.4% in 2020 to 16.1% in 2021, which doesn’t give me confidence that this is a temporary funk that Odorizzi can work himself out of.

His other pitches – split finger (22.5%) and slider (10.9%) – have been good, with opponents batting .193 and .171 off them, respectively, but Odorizzi’s a pitcher that’s lived and died with his fastball for the majority of his career and the other pitches feed off the four-seamer.

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And when the movement on that pitch isn’t great, the spins a little slower and you’ve lost command, the results are what we’ve seen over the last four starts. Can Odorizzi pull out of this? Sure.  But given the totality of the numbers and the trends it isn’t going to be easy.

Solving the mechanical issues will help and the mental side needs to be addressed too. The Astros options are limited at this point of the season and James Click opted to address the bullpen at the trade deadline, a choice that was much needed and has paid obvious dividends since.

Odorizzi doesn’t need to be vintage Justin Verlander for the Astros to win, but he also can’t tax the bullpen every start either. Click’s bet was that the lineup and rotation were good enough that if he bolstered the bullpen the Astros would be OK.

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Cracks in that rotation have appeared at various times during the season, perhaps none bigger than what we’re seeing now as Odorizzi struggles down the stretch, when the Astros need him most.

The Astros dropped another close game on Friday, but this time in extra innings, 5-4 to the Minnesota Twins. Luis Garcia looks to counter right-hander Michael Pineda at 6:10 p.m. on Saturday.

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