The Minnesota Twins can regain a firm grasp of the American League Central despite a hot run by the Cleveland Indians. After winning the first duel of thirteen in the second half, the Twins will send Jake Odorizzi to the hill to attempt to push their division lead out to 7.5 games.
Odorizzi has been one of the more intriguing storylines of 2019. The talent has always been there, but it hasn’t quite meshed like this since 2015. His 3.15 earned run average is looked upon fondly by a couple peripheral statistics like FIP and a solid strikeout to walk ratio.
A revamped Twins coaching staff, including pitching coach Wes Johnson, has found a way to get more out of Odorizzi than the previous regime. They’ve got his fastball churning at a career high 93.1 mile per hour average, which is somewhat remarkable in his age 29 season. He has leveraged that added velocity and mixed in his sinking fastball with more regularity to produce more swings and misses, leading to more strikeouts.
Of late, however, he has seen some of that success regress towards his previous career levels. Whether it’s normal regression to the mean or a nagging blister that sidelined him recently, his results from June onward leave something to be desired. In his last four starts, Odorizzi has pitched a shade over 18 innings and has allowed 16 runs and six long balls. While he has maintained velocity across those starts, his ability to generate whiffs has cratered and the opposition is mashing almost everything he leaves in the zone. The true talent typically lies somewhere in the middle — he was due for regression but it does not mean he can’t be effective.
Delving into how Jake Odorizzi achieves effectiveness allows us to peel another layer off of the onion. With his fastball and sinker combination, he likes to work up in the zone and a shade away from left-handers. This is likely a result of his difficulties when venturing up and in, middle middle, and wherever else they can find marginal opportunities.
Chart courtesy of FanGraphs
When honing in on that target, a few Indians hitters stand out. On fastballs in that section of the quadrant, Roberto Perez has posted an xwOBA of 0.483. Historically, Francisco Lindor has owned this quadrant as well. Tyler Naquin’s name could be brought up as well had he not injured his back exiting his vehicle
Much of Odorizzi’s efforts, though, will be centered around changing the pace. With a variety of offspeed pitches at his disposal, he will attack with the mindset of keeping Indians batsmen off balance and flustered.
His most effective breaking slash offspeed gambit is his slider. There are two Indians who have been essentially inept against the slider in 2019, Jason Kipnis and Jake Bauers. You can expect that each of them will see a steady dose of the sharp breaker on Saturday evening.
Odorizzi might run into trouble against a couple Indians hitters should he lean too heavily on the slider, however. By weighted on base average standards, Oscar Mercado’s 0.389 mark should provide him some solid footing against it. Right behind Oscar is Jose Ramirez, who seems to be showing some life with the bat. Odorizzi could tempt fate by challenging him one too many times with the slider.
The fascinating component of play within a division is familiarity. By virtue of several series against each division foe, hitters and pitchers can get to know one another a little bit. The game often turns into who blinks and adjusts first. This framework leaves us with some evidence regarding how Odorizzi might attack Indians hitters.
This particular team and hitter combination has butted heads once in 2019, on March 30th in Game 2 of the season. The Indians ultimately prevailed in a 2-1 pitcher’s duel by no fault of Odorizzi. He was undeniably affective on this crisp March day at Target Field, spinning six innings of one run ball — with the only run coming on a now possibly retired Hanley Ramirez long ball.
March seems like forever ago. A lot has changed since Odorizzi sought to shut down this opponent the first time. But smart teams and coaches, like the Minnesota Twins under Rocco Baldelli and Wes Johnson, will undoubtedly look back on this game as a blueprint for their righty in this second matchup of the season.
Jake Odorizzi vs Cleveland Indians 3/30/19 (Courtesy of Baseball Savant)
Odorizzi’s plan of attack was pretty clear — fastballs, fastballs, and more fastballs. Only 8 of his 92 offerings were classified as non-fastball variants. He rode his four seam fastball into the locker room, throwing it 60 times. Despite throwing it so often, it was located extremely well and unbelievably effective.
Outside of the lone mistake to Hanley Ramirez, Odorizzi’s four seam was dynamite. Fifteen swinging strikes yielded an impressive 25% pure whiff rate. Even beyond those whiffs, there were nine called strikes with it and 16 foul balls. Essentially, 40 of his 60 four seam offerings yielded favorable results, or 67%. The other 20 were comprised of 14 balls and six balls in play, five of which were mitigated contact.
It would be silly to suggest that Odorizzi will continue to push the fastball envelope at that extreme rate. That being said, he will unleash it quite often with the hope of locating it. It is a perfect matchup for Roberto Perez, Francisco Lindor, and Oscar Mercado to let loose on some offerings in the upper half of the strike zone.