Myself and others hold the position that 2013 is not a year for in-house options for the Royals starting rotation. Many are under the impression that 2014 and 2015 will be the years for John Lamb, Danny Duffy, Kyle Zimmer, and Jake Odorizzi, just to name a few. Of those options, Odorizzi is the closest to starting early in 2013 (Duffy will not return until probably August). Still, the general consensus is that he will start the season in AAA.
I’d like to look more closely at Odorizzi because he is right on the cusp of not only being in the major leagues but reaching his potential as well, which is limited but not unimpressive.
Let us begin with his very, very brief stint with the big league club last year. During that time, he pitched seven innings, gave up four earned runs, allowed eight hits, four walks, and struck out four. Not much to be learned from those numbers, but if you remember, he had some control issues and gave up a few hits. But let’s say the extremely limited sample size doesn’t allow us to take anything significant from the statistical data itself.
To find substantial data, I dug into his minor league numbers. They were pretty good if somewhat misleading. His AAA ERA, 2.93, looks great, but if you probe a little deeper you see a 4.19 FIP. You also see a pretty high BB/9 rate, 3.35 and a high LOB% as well 81.3 percent. The worry I had for Odorizzi last year was his high number of hits and walks allowed. Essentially, he was allowing runners on base and then getting out of tough jams. It’s good he was getting out of jams; it’s not good that hitters were reaching base so much.
His H/9 to me hint at a point of concern, a question really. Does Odorizzi miss enough bats? It’s been stated that he doesn’t have electric stuff, and that’s all that’s going to keep him from being a true ace. In the majors an inability to miss bats, relegates a pitcher to 4-5 starter range, and the Royals really don’t need anymore 4-5 starters. In his two starts at the end of the season, Odorizzi induced a swinging strike 6.6 percent of the time (small sample size I know). For comparison, Duffy induced a swinging strike 9.3 percent of the time last year. Justin Verlander has done so at a 9.8 percent clip over his career. Odorizzi’s looks low compared to those two, but keep in mind it was his first stint in the majors and the sample size is small. In Duffy’s first season, he got swinging strikes only 7.7 percent of the time.
Odorizzi has this pattern, you see. He gets a taste of a level, struggles on that level, and then comes back and dominates the next season. At least, that’s what he did with AA (I don’t know if you can call it a pattern if it only happened once). He struggled at Northwest Arkansas in his last seven starts of 2011, came back in 2012 and destroyed Texas League hitters to the tune of 11.13 K/9 and a 2.20 FIP. That’s incredible, especially considering the league.
I think Odorizzi will end up back in AAA. What I’m looking for is his bounce back. I’m looking to see if some of the problems that were covered up in AAA last season will be resolved this season. Will he get his strikeout rate back up (it dipped to 7.38 K/9 at AAA)? Will he get his walks and hits allowed down? This should allow him to fix one of his other problems from AAA last year, short outings. He had so many people on base, his pitch counts sored, and he often didn’t make it past five innings.
If Odorizzi starts hot in Omaha, I’d love to see him get a chance in late May or early June. He’s a smart, poised young pitcher. A little refinement, and the Royals could have the first two pieces of their in-house pitching solution in place (Duffy and Odorizzi).