Jake Odorizzi: A Budding Craftsman on his Development

Jake Odorizzi is a wanted man. The 25-year-old right-hander is reportedly a trade target for multiple teams this offseason. It’s easy to see why. Last year, in his second full season with the Tampa Bay Rays, Odorizzi logged a 3.35 ERA and a 3.61 FIP over 28 starts. Arbitration eligible after the coming campaign, he’s under team control four more years.

Odorizzi isn’t a power pitcher, nor is he a control artist. He’s certainly not a sinker-baller. What he does is mix-and-match with a full repertoire that includes a riding fastball and a dipping splitter. Thoughtful in his approach, he might be best described as budding craftsman.

Odorizzi, who remains a Ray for the time being — Tampa Bay’s interest in dealing him is of course speculative — discussed his development in the final week of September.

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Odorizzi on his 2015 season: “The biggest change from last year to this year is maturity. I’m learning the league, plus there’s the confidence you gain. As a rookie, everything is kind of an unknown, and now I have a better idea of what to expect. That’s been big, given all of the injuries we had early on. Chris Archer and I have had to grow, and step up to fill the void. Even with as young as we are, we’re kind of the veteran guys in the rotation. Circumstances forced us to have what I guess you could call an older approach.

“We both got off to good starts. Arch kept it going throughout the entire season. I got hurt halfway through — I hurt my oblique — and that slowed things down a bit. Outside of that, I feel I’ve thrown the ball pretty consistently. Some games, the runs were a little higher, but my stuff never really dropped off at any point. I’m happy with how my body and arm have held up.”

On avoiding big innings: “I’ve done a lot better job of not letting things snowball. Last year, I let some games get away from me in the middle innings. This year, I’ve done better with runners on base — I’ve been able to keep them there, as opposed to letting them score.

“I’ve been attacking hitters and getting ahead in the count. I haven’t been too nit-picky, which was a problem last year. With runners on base, I tried to be too perfect instead of letting them put the ball in play. I was trying to avoid contact — I was trying to do everything myself — and now I’m taking a different approach. It’s really helped me. Instead of unraveling, I’m limiting damage and going deeper into games.”

On repertoire and sequencing: “I change on a game-to-game basis. Last year, I was pretty similar from start to start. I took the same approach against basically everybody, and wasn’t making adjustments. Teams would make an adjustment to me, and that’s where I would have my failures. This season, I’m making adjustments game to game, team to team.

“Right now I have the ability to throw everything for a strike, and I’ll throw any pitch in any count. That’s part of growing as a pitcher. I’m not having to rely as super heavy on my changeup — my split — like I did (in 2014). I had two pitches to go to in a jam, and now I can pretty much go with anything.”

On his curveball and his cutter-slider: “I’ve worked on my curveball, although it’s still kind of a work-in-progress, I used it sparingly this year, but I’m hoping to use it a lot more in the future, so it’s a pitch I’ll put a lot of emphasis on going into next year.

“I’ve developed a cutter, which I used a lot early on, maybe a little too much. I still have my slider, but what I’ve actually done is kind of the merge the two into one pitch. I can throw it at different speeds. That’s kind of what I mean by merging together. I can throw it slower for a slider effect, or I can throw it harder for more of a cutter type of break. It’s the same grip, so it just depends on how I want to throw it. Do I want to stay behind it more to have that shorter break, or do I get more on the side of it to get some of that tilt-run?”

On learning a cutter: “I toyed around with it a little (in 2014) and used it a handful of times, but it was this spring where I really started focusing on it. It was based on my own thinking. No one told me to throw it; no one told me anything. I was just self-evaluating and decided I needed a pitch that I could throw in the zone and get early outs. I needed something to help get me to the next level.

“I can pick pitches up pretty well. A cutter is just an off-tilted fastball for the most part, so it wasn’t a tough pitch for me to learn. I thought it would help me get earlier contact, and earlier-count outs, and it’s done what I was hoping it would do. It’s served the purpose and now the next step is refining it.”

On his two- and four-seam fastballs: “Im throwing more twos this year (16%) than last year (4.5%), but still not a large amount of them. My two-seamer isn’t a conventional two-seamer where it’s a ground-ball pitch. It stays true a lot of the time. More than anything, what it does is help me get on top. When I really want to get down through a ball, and stick it on a corner low in the zone, using a two-seam grip helps me get the angle of a down ball instead of getting underneath it and pushing it.

“With my four, sometimes I’ll get underneath it and it rides up in the zone. A lot of times, I want to do that. My four-seam has good carry to it. I don’t know what my spin rate is — no one has even asked me about it — but I kind of have that ability to make it take off and ride up in the zone.”

On utilizing all four quadrants: “Up and down is something that almost goes by the wayside. Pitching these days is more corner to corner, not top to bottom of the zone. I try to do both, and hit every quadrant of the zone. I like the contrasts. A lot of hitters’ swings are down through the ball, so something elevated is a good pitch. That also helps your other pitches by changing their eye level. If you see a bunch of pitches down, then up close to the eyes and everywhere in between, it’s hard to be comfortable, because you can’t just look in one area.”

On video and scouting reports: “I don’t really look at video on the other team’s lineup. Just because a guy had success doing something the last time out doesn’t mean that I would have the same success doing the same thing. We have scouting reports we go over, and while it’s just a sheet of paper, that’s what I stick to.

“I’m not a power pitcher, or a finesse pitcher; I’m a little bit of both. Basically I just stick to my strengths. That’s one reason I don’t look at film. If you look at too much, sometimes you can psyche yourself out. You start thinking, ‘This is one of my strengths, but I can’t do that because this guy hits that really well.’ But the pitcher on the mound on the video isn’t me. Everyone is different, and I have to do my own thing.”





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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Sandy Kazmir
6 years ago

Awesome ,amazing, incredible stuff, as always. Thanks for taking the time, David, and especially, Jake.