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Jake Odorizzi has struggled in his first year in Houston, and a fast fix seems unlikely

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The search for his All-Star form of 2019 could continue into next year.

Houston Astros v Cleveland Indians Photo by 2021 Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

Jake Odorizzi is not fooling anyone this year. Opposing hitters have had little trouble against him at the plate, consistently making quality contact while staying in the strike zone. In nearly every aspect of pitching, the 31-year-old starter has been below average.

The Astros signed Odorizzi to a multi-year contract in March shortly after Framber Valdez fractured his finger. At the time, it seemed like it could have been a panic-signing, as there were fears that Valdez could have potentially missed most of the season, if not all of it.

Hindsight is certainly 20/20 — Valdez returned in late May, and Odorizzi’s results have been ineffective for much of the season. At this point, it’s clear that the veteran righty is the weak link in the Astros starting rotation.

Odorizzi wasn’t expected to be an ace when the club signed him, but he’s failed to pitch like the league-average starter he had been for several years. An ERA+ of 95 might indicate he’s been passable in 2021, but the peripheral data paints a different picture.

For starters, a Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) of nearly 5.00 and an Expected Era (xERA) that’s over 5.00 is not good. Things only get worse when assessing various individual components.

For the first time in the Statcast era (2015-), Odorizzi has yielded a double-digit Barrel rate over the course of a full, non-2020 season. What enhances this development is the amount of contact hitters are making, as Odorizzi’s current Whiff rate is the lowest it’s been since 2016.

Although his four-seam fastball can be effective, his secondary pitches have been inadequate. Each has a minuscule Whiff rate and a relatively high Expected Slugging (xSLG) — a dangerous combination that encapsulates many of Odorizzi’s shortcomings. In terms of inducing bad swings, his career Chase rate is just above 29 percent. In 2021, that figure has regressed to 25.3 percent.

Odorizzi’s over-reliance on his fastball and the lack of a well-rounded profile in general has left him at the mercy of opposing lineups when pitching through the order for a third time. Here’s what that looks like via wOBA and Expected wOBA (xwOBA):

Times through the order

Metric First time Second time Third time
Metric First time Second time Third time
wOBA 0.289 0.302 0.545
xwOBA 0.309 0.320 0.554
via Baseball Savant

To be fair to Odorizzi, his 2021 has been unusual. He signed late, then an arm injury in his third start in late April sidelined him for more than a month. For a time, he had to build up his arm strength and stamina, but now that it’s been close to three months since he’s returned to the mound, it’s rather underwhelming that he’s only mustered two outings of at least six innings. Moreover, the predictive ERA metric Skill-Interactive ERA (SIERA) doesn’t project Odorizzi favorably going forward.

Saturday’s start against the Mariners was somewhat emblematic of the concerns surrounding Odorizzi. He pitched 5.2 innings of 1-run ball and struck out 8 while walking 4, which, on the surface, is a solid start, but the underlying data indicates otherwise. Though he limited hard contact, Odorizzi’s fastball was again the only pitch that could miss bats, and his overall Called Strikes Plus Whiffs rate (CSW%) was mediocre.

And this was against one of the worst offenses in baseball.

It’s possible that 2021 will be a wash for Odorizzi. Given that he didn’t sign until March 8, he wasn’t able to have a conventional spring with the Astros, which could have been a reason why his arm flared up earlier in the season.

Although a short-term solution might not exist, a full, normal offseason could be the remedy.

The data in this article was compiled via Baseball Savant