Adam Ottavino on Adapting and Optimizing

Adam Ottavino is a cerebral pitcher. You probably already know that, especially if you’re a regular reader of FanGraphs. Eno Sarris and I have both talked to, and written about, the Rockies reliever multiple times in recent seasons. From spin rates to spin axis to release points, he digs deep into data in search of any and all advantages he can find.

Last week, I approached Ottavino at Colorado’s spring-training facility — the scenic-and-pristine Salt River Fields at Talking Stick — to get a pitcher’s view of how launch-angle studies could end up impacting the game. His answer, studious as always, segued into the optimization of his own offerings.


Adam Ottavino: “It’s going to be a natural, evolutionary process. People are going to change what they’re doing at the plate and, as pitchers, we’re going to have to change in response to that. They’re trying to get on plane and create fly balls, staying through it really well. I think we’re seeing more guys now with the ability to lift lower pitches. In years past, the swing wasn’t really designed to do that. They were trying to hit the ball on the ground, hard, and run.

“I think we’re going to continue to see pitchers elevating. We’re going to continue to see pitches designed to turn those fly balls into weak fly balls. But I think until it’s fully embraced — the uppercut swing, and all that — until it’s prevalent throughout all of baseball, it’s hard to imagine we’ll see a major trend on the pitching side in response to that.

“I haven’t seen [a major trend with hitters], but what I have seen — what everybody has seen in the last couple of years — is that there have been more low-ball hitters in the game, so pitchers have started pitching up more. I think there’s going to be a response to that. I think some hitters are going to become really good at hitting the high pitch.

“I think we saw it with Jean Segura last year. He changed his hand placement and really just tried to be short to the ball. Since he’s little to begin with, he was able to handle a little more stuff up than most guys. That was kind of a different stroke than I’ve seen.

“You have to [study every hitter]. And as you face guys more and more, it becomes more of a personal process. What has he done against me? You try to adjust to that, try to see what he’s thinking about and what he’s trying to do.

“It’s on a case-by-case basis. There is so much data available that even if one guy does one thing one way, and another guy does another thing a different way, at least you’re going to know about it, and the requirement as a pitcher. You’ll have to be multi-faceted. You’ll have to have a couple of different ways to go about your pitching.

“An interesting thing now is the concept of people recreating their pitches through TrackMan, like Craig Breslow did, trying to find out how certain pitches are spinning, and kind of trying to add that to their own game. I’ve already tinkered with that a little bit.

“Initially, I just talked to some of our guys about certain guys’ pitches. I wanted to become fluent in spin axis, so if somebody said, ‘It spins at X [rpm],’ I would know what that means, I would be able to visualize it. Once I got to that point, I started looking at certain guys’ individual pitches and thinking about, ‘How was it spinning, and why was in effective?’ I can obviously look at an arm slot, and things like that, and make my own judgments, but I want to actually, physically, know how the ball is spinning. From there, you try to figure out if you’re capable of doing that within the framework of your delivery.

“It’s hard to do. It also takes time, so you’re not going to have a ton of people doing it just yet, but I think it’s the future of optimizing what you have, finding the best possible version. That’s how the game is evolving. Pitchers and hitters are both trying to optimize what they have.”

David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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6 years ago

Man, Otto is gonna make a great front office guy after he’s done pitching.

6 years ago
Reply to  coopatroopa

Yup. sort of like former Rockies reliever Jerry Dipoto