Since the last time we spoke about Alexi Ogando a few things have changed. The biggest concern about Ogando in the rotation is and was durability. The outfielder-turned-fireballer pitched a career-high 72.1 innings last season between the minors and major leagues. With that in mind, it seems unlikely he could handle a workload over 150+ innings in 2011.
In the original Ogando article, I briefly mentioned the Rangers might start Ogando in the rotation with the intention of moving him back to the bullpen once Brandon Webb or Tommy Hunter was able to take his turn. Soon after we went live on FanGraphs, the Rangers announced that the move was indeed a temporary one. Even though the long-term durability issues were erased, there were concerns about how much endurance the righty would have on a start-to-start basis.
As mentioned previously, Ogando threw 40 pitches in a game just one time last season. Of his 44 appearances in 2010, 15 of them required two outs or less. He made just one start in the spring and pitched only 11.2 innings in all of March.
Even with all the questions and concerns, the Ogando experiment is a very intriguing one – and one that got off to a fantastic start on Tuesday. Facing an equally intriguing and impressive Michael Pineda, the Rangers’ righty tossed six shut-out innings in his first major league start. He allowed just two hits and two walks while striking out four batters. He averaged a solid 15 pitches-per-inning and finished the night with 90 pitches, 55 of them being strikes.
As a reliever, Ogando worked mainly off his fastball and slider. He briefly threw a changeup and supposedly dabbled with a splitter this spring. In Tuesday’s game, he stayed true to form, working almost exclusively fastball/slider while using his changeup pitch sparingly – PitchFx only credits him with one, but in looking at the clusters, I see four. Still, four out of ninety qualifies as scarce usage.
In terms of velocity, Ogando came out of the gate pumping fastballs between 94-96 MPH. This is sustainable in short bursts as relief pitcher, but few starters can maintain that sort of heat over the course of 100 pitches. As his day came to a close, Ogando was still throwing heat, averaging 92-94 even as he passed the 70-pitch threshold. That should encourage the Texas coaching staff and their fans going forward, but as is the case for nearly every pitcher, Ogando will have to succeed with less velocity if he ends up staying in the rotation.
In 2010, Ron Washington used Ogando as a right-handed specialist; however, as a starter he does not have that luxury. The Mariners started just two natural right-handed batters against him and stacked the top of the lineup with lefties and switch-hitters. All four of Seattle’s baserunners came from the left side, yet Ogando was able to limit the damage to just one extra-base hit.
However, it is worth noting that he only struck out two of the 18 left-handed hitters he faced, following the same trend he showed last year. His xFIP against RHBs was 0.96 (remember, n=4), while his mark against LHBs was 5.12, thanks to the contact pitching and accumulation of balls in the air.
It is almost required that we tag all these types of posts with the obligatory “it’s one game early in the season” line. That said, Ogando’s season as a starter is scheduled to be a short one. It is highly unlikely for him to maintain this sort of performance over the course of 25-30 starts; however, he is not expected to. If Ogando can give the Rangers a handful of solid starts until one of the regulars arrive, the decision to put him in the rotation will be considered another successful – albeit brief – conversion story for Texas. If this is something that they want to try as a long term experiment, however, Ogando will have to figure out some way to strike left-handed batters out.