Adam Ottavino: New Closer With New Weapons

Adam Ottavino has been frustrated by platoon splits over his career. And admittedly, he’s had trouble with the lefties. So he’s looked around baseball for pitchers with similar skillsets that he can learn from.

First, he asked me about Steve Cishek, but he quickly understood that his arm slot made him a different pitcher than the Miami closer. Then, he spent some time thinking about Garrett Richards — “he has similar mechanics, that big curve ball, good velocity, and a slider he likes to use a lot,” said the new Rockies closer before his game against the Giants.

Ottavino noticed something about Richards’ fastball — “His four seamer tends to cut slightly when he goes to his glove side. It was the combination of that movement and his awesome sinking movement on his two seam that was interesting to me,” the Rockies pitcher said. But he also wanted to point out that it wasn’t all Richards. “I’ve played with a bunch of guys who had a good cutter and they all seemed to be more comfortable vs lefties than I was. Carlos Torres of the Mets is someone who immediately comes to mind. Adam Wainwright and Jake Arrieta are others that I watched.”

Ottavino talked to David Laurila about his three different sliders, but even his ‘curve’ slider doesn’t necessarily have the depth that you’d want from a platoon-busting 12-to-6 curve ball.

He thought a cutter would give him a third speed — his sliders vary from about 77 to the low 80s, and his fastball is in the high 90s — and something that would bore in on the hands of lefties without dropping into their happy zone. “They can extend on the pitch that’s down and in, but they can’t extend on a pitch that’s in on their hands,” Ottavino explained. Cutters don’t quite have reverse platoon splits, but they do have the most neutral of platoon splits when compared to sliders and slurves.

Ottavino modeled his new cutter, which is thrown with a four-seam grip, but from a slightly different angle on the seams.

And then, last night he threw two to Brandon Crawford. Here’s the first, which made Giants announcer Mike Krukow say “hard breaking ball… that’s a nice pitch.”

OttavinoCrawfordCutter

Ottavino said before the game that he’d like it to be in the 92-93 mph range, just a little bit slower than his fastball, with some cutting action. This pitch was 90 mph, and though it ‘only’ had about three inches of cut, that’s about ten to twelve inches different from his fastballs, which both have decent arm-side fade.

Crawford may never have swung at that pitch, and it was a ball, but that’s part of the point. Ottavino said he’d like to steal strikes when possible, but even a ball can keep lefties from hanging over the plate on everything on the outside corner. He said that the pitch to Crawford “served its purpose.”

He also pointed to Anthony Rizzo has a player that frustrated him by looking for everything on the outside plate, and a particular sequence against Rizzo this year that gives him the confidence that the cutter will fix his lefty problem this year.

He faced Rizzo in the seventh inning on Sunday, April 12th. After two 97 mph fastballs in the dirt, Ottavino threw this four-seam fastball inside.

OttavinoRizzoFourSeam

“He was leaning out over the plate, as he does, and I knew I needed to get him off that part of the plate to get him out,” Ottavino said. But the four-seam’s natural tail, when thrown inside, meant the pitch would drift into the heart of the plate. So Ottavino threw one of the better cutters he’s thrown this year.

OttavinoRizzoCutter

It got another foul ball, but it also didn’t dive into this lefty’s happy zone, and it also set up the next two pitches. The first was an 85 mph slurve slider, aimed at the plate.

OttavinoRizzoSlider1

And now Ottavino was ready for the nail in the coffin. The hitter has only seen high and tight and low and inside, so the outside of the plate is about as set up as it can be. Ottavino has been throwing from the third-base side of the plate against lefties this year, and so he threw the big old slurveball from way out towards third base, aiming for the outside corner of the plate.

OttavinoRizzoSliderTwo

Strike three, and a lefty conquered.

Adding velocity has been a big help. After sitting 91.4 in 2012, he was up to 94 last year, and is sitting 96 this year. Ottavino pointed out that he was at 94 mph in 2011, and that ongoing shoulder issues were the reason he bottommed out in 2013. He sublexed his shoulder in 2008 while hitting — “Although I was able to stay mostly healthy over the next several years, my shoulder was never quite right and I even had to rehab it for much of 2010. I just kept having small incidents where I would strain my shoulder. I lost my footing on a pitch in LA in April of 2013 and it hurt me again somewhat,” the pitcher said of the years with iffy velocity.

“Finally last year I was able to go thru an entire year with a fully healthy shoulder,” he said about 2014. “I don’t know if it was the amount of time from the initial injury or whether I got the proper strength but I could feel that it was back. I’ve been throwing harder ever since. Hopefully I can keep it up, but if not I feel lucky that I went through a bunch of years without a great fastball. It made me better now.”

Mostly, Ottavino thinks his success this year hinges on his approach against lefties. So he’s studied the data to find a better way. And the answer? It was time to turf the changeup — “After enough data, I am pretty sure that pitch is horseshit,” he laughed — and add a new spot on the mound, and a new wrinkle on his fastball. That, and high-90s heat (thanks to good health) and low-80s funk, should be enough for us to enjoy a great new closer all year.





With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.

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AndrewYF
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AndrewYF

As a fellow NEU grad, really glad to see Ottavino have some success.

Willy Taveras
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Willy Taveras

As someone who had to look up what institution NEU was, I agree.

AndrewYF
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AndrewYF

Hey, it also kind-of produced Carlos Pena.

Willy Taveras
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Willy Taveras

Haha, true. I don’t mean any disrespect; the tiny college I went to last produced a major leaguer in the first decade of the 20th century.