Why you should want the Dodgers to trade for Jake Odorizzi

Because he’s a good, young pitcher.

I’d be somewhat justified ending the post after those six words. It’d be the second-shortest post in Dodgers Digest history. But, I’ll go on.

Jake Odorizzi, 25, is coming off a 2015 season that saw him improve in some key areas. While his strikeout percentage dipped a bit from 24.2 in 2014 to 21.4 last season, he also cut down on his walk percentage (8.2 to 6.6), opponents batting average (.238 to .229) and FIP (3.75 to 3.61). He also improved his wins above replacement by almost a full win (2.1 to 2.9) while getting just four more outs in 2015 than he did in 2014.

He also saw a slight velocity spike. He isn’t overwhelming with his velo, as his fastball went from 90.3 MPH to 91.3 MPH, but the fact he had any significant jump is positive. He had an oblique issue during the season, but his arm and shoulder have been clean in his professional career thus far.

Odorizzi was strong through July, but the final two months of the season saw him wear down a bit. His last 12 starts saw him post a 4.00 ERA, .244 BAA and .288 BABIP. He also gave up 10 of his 18 home runs in his last 12 starts. As a young pitcher without a long track record of heavy workload, it wasn’t terribly surprising to see him wear down toward the end of the year.

The Dodgers have, seemingly, been in the market to acquire ground ball pitchers, but Odorizzi is the opposite of that. Since his MLB debut in 2012, Odorizzi has the seventh-highest fly ball percentage of any pitcher in the majors at 44.4 percent. Subsequently, his ground ball rate was the fifth-lowest in that time. His fly ball tendencies would play just fine in Dodger Stadium and the NL West (mostly), but he also might have been a pitcher in transition last season. His fly ball and ground ball percentages began to be more even, as he posted a 40.6 FB% and 37.7 GB% — both career-bests by a long shot. His FB% was still 1oth-highest in MLB, but it was easily the lowest number he has posted in his career to date. Conversely, his ground ball percentage was the highest he has ever posted. Those numbers also came with a 22 percent line drive rate, which is right in line with his career average.

Something Odorizzi does well is limit hard contact. His Hard% was 26th-best in baseball at 26.8. He also allowed an average of 88.82 MPH on his exit velocity. League-average is in the 88-89 MPH range, and his exit velo was in the neighborhood of some really good pitchers. Odorizzi’s number was good for 83rd in baseball. That doesn’t sound impressive, but consider the company (minimum of 250 at-bats):

82. Felix Hernandez, 88.81 MPH
83. Jake Odorizzi, 88.82 MPH
84. Sonny Gray, 88.85 MPH
85. Stephen Strasburg, 88.95 MPH

A pitcher doesn’t need to have elite exit velo numbers (like Jake Arrieta and Clayton Kershaw) to be effective — or even good — MLB pitchers.

Odorizzi’s repertoire consists of a 4-seam fastball, split-finger fastball, cut fastball, slider and curveball. He has seen his pitch usage shift a bit since introducing a splitter in 2014.

Jake Odorizzi pitch usageHe’s throwing his 4-seamer less and a splitter and cutter more. His true breaking pitches don’t get a ton of play since he has adopted the splitter and cutter. Overall, his swinging strike rate improved by nearly half a percent to 10.1 percent. Again, he’s in good company there with Gerrit Cole (10.2 percent) and Johnny Cueto (10 percent).

His splitter, however, has been really good. In 2014, he got a a 14.84 percent swinging strike rate on it. In 2015, it was even better at 16.73 percent. It’s by far his best swing-and-miss pitch. He uses it as his primary off-speed pitch to lefties, though, he had better success with it against righties in 2015.

Splitter vs. RHB
.143 BAA, .286 SLG, .143 ISO

Splitter vs. LHP
.254 BAA, .392 SLG, .138 ISO

Here’s the pitch in action (courtesy of Sports Illustrated).

The phrase “falls off the table” applies. Now, he threw the pitch to lefties more than 2 1/2 times more frequently than he did to righties, but the pitch isn’t totally unusable against righties. In fact, it’s actually a good weapon against them.

He also posted reverse platoon splits in 2015:

vs. RHB

vs. LHB

His breaking pitches leave a lot to be desired. He did get a fair number of whiffs on his slider last season (9.32 percent), but he only threw it 4.3 percent of the time. Perhaps there’s some potential in the pitch Rick Honeycutt can coax out of Odorizzi.

Now the biggest question: How much is he going to cost in trade? This is from Nick Cafardo’s Sunday column in the Boston Globe.

“The Rays are willing to deal pitching depth if they receive young, controllable players in return. The Dodgers are very interested in Odorizzi, who was acquired by Tampa Bay when the Dodgers’ current president of baseball operations, Andrew Friedman, ran the Rays. The Dodgers definitely have the prospects to give back. “

The Friedman factor does nothing for me, despite him acquiring Odorizzi and Wil Myers for James Shields and Wade Davis a few years go. There’s obviously no way to tell for sure how much Odorizzi would cost. The Diamondbacks effectively blew up the pre-arb, young pitcher trade market with their incredible overpay of Shelby Miller. For fun, let’s look at Odorizzi and Miller, comparatively in their careers.

Odorizzi 22.1 7.4 8.8 3.77 3.73 4.00 5.2
Miller 20.1 8.6 8.6 3.22 3.82 4.08 6.9

In his career, Miller has thrown 200 more innings than Odorizzi, but he’s also started 31 more games than him. Odorizzi has struck out more batters per nine innings (8.4 to 7.6) and walked fewer (2.8 to 3.2). And Odorizzi has pitched to a better FIP (3.73) and xFIP (4.00) than Miller (3.82 and 4.08, respectively). Miller gets more grounders, while Odorizzi gives up more homers. A better comparison (as Baseball-Reference similarity scores tell me) might be another pitcher who is reportedly on the market in Danny Salazar.

Odorizzi 22.1 7.4 8.8 3.77 3.73 4.00 5.2
Salazar 26.4 7.1 11.7 3.66 3.52 3.36 6.1

While there’s no doubt Salazar is the better pitcher, the difference isn’t worth what the asking price for each starter would be. Salazar has the clear edge in strikeouts and the walks are a wash. Salazar gets beaten by the home run a bit more and they’re both predominantly fly ball pitchers. The reported asking price for Salazar is equal to that of Carlos Carrasco, which is prohibitive to a prospective acquiring team.

Odorizzi has four years of team control remaining (pre-arbitration this year, Arb 1 in 2017, Arb 2 in 2018 and Arb 3 in 2019), meaning he’d be a Dodger at least through the 2019 (if he isn’t dealt at some point). For Odorizzi, I’m betting a package would have to be headlined with Jose De Leon or the recently acquired Frankie Montas (whom others are higher on than I am). If Montas isn’t the guy, then maybe a Grant Holmes-led package. A guy like Cody Bellinger or Alex Verdugo could be the likely second piece and a high-upside reliever like Pedro Baez or Yimi Garcia could interest Tampa.

And I’d be surprised if Jake McGee weren’t somehow included in the deal. That would increase the overall price of the package, but the Dodgers would also be getting a dominant reliever. Perhaps Austin Barnes, Carlos Frias or Scott Van Slyke paired with prospects like Jharel Cotton, Chase De Jong, Kyle Farmer or Jacob Scavuzzo could interest the Rays.

It could end up being a 4- or 5-for-2 type of deal. The Dodgers have enough depth to withstand that kind of hit to the farm system and 40-man roster.

The Dodgers and Rays seem like really good trade partners in this scenario. The Dodgers have a lot of useful, young players who might interest Tampa and the Rays have a couple of good pitchers who would help them for 2016. It almost makes too much sense for there not to be a deal.

The price of young pitching has increased. Landing Odorizzi would help alleviate the loss of Zack Greinke a bit, but he definitely isn’t the 1-for-1 replacement a guy like Jose Fernandez or Carrasco would be. Then again, the price to acquire him, coupled with some potential that is yet untapped, could make for a great offseason addition.

About Dustin Nosler

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Dustin Nosler began writing about the Dodgers in July 2009 at his blog, Feelin' Kinda Blue. He co-hosted a weekly podcast with Jared Massey called Dugout Blues. He was a contributor/editor at The Hardball Times and True Blue LA. He graduated from California State University, Sacramento, with his bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in digital media. While at CSUS, he worked for the student-run newspaper The State Hornet for three years, culminating with a 1-year term as editor-in-chief. He resides in Stockton, Calif.