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Jake Odorizzi And The Third Time Through The Order

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Tuesday’s decision to remove the veteran right-hander produced some drama this week.

MLB: Seattle Mariners at Houston Astros Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

On Tuesday, I wrote about which version of Jake Odorizzi would make an appearance prior to his start against the Mariners that same evening. I was hopeful for the more improved edition as the club’s primary catcher Martin Maldonado was scheduled to catch the right-hander for the fifth time in his last six starts. Since this primary catcher adjustment from Jason Castro to Maldonado, we’ve seen a more effective Odorizzi dating back tohis August 10 start against the Rockies.

- 4/13 to 8/9/21: 63 2/3 IP, 266 TBF, 4.95 ERA, 5.07 FIP, 21.4 % K, 7.9% BB

- 8/10 to 9/9/21: 31 IP, 131 TBF, 2.90 ERA, 3.78 FIP, 21.4% K, 7.6% BB

Odorizzi’s performance against Seattle on Tuesday – 5 IP, 2 ER, 0 BB, 3 K – further solidified this somewhat renewedconfidence in him. The catcher change is an interesting development to monitor as it is sometimes difficult to differentiate which improvements were primarily due to Maldonado or Odorizzi. We do know that the former Twin has noted at various points in recent weeks that his mechanics were not completely sound. I’d like to have more data before writing up something extensive here.

Let’s take a step back to Tuesday’s start for the purpose of today’s post. As mentioned above, Odorizzi had an effective start of five innings while allowing two earned runs on 66 pitches (45 strikes). Without further investigation, it felt like an odd point in the game to remove him considering the pitch count and overall results. Odorizzi himself was clearly perturbed by the decision as noted in his postgame interview with reporters.

But, as we already know, pitchers often see their numbers suffer as they face the same hitters over and over in a single game. Odorizzi knows this himself, but he remains no different than most pitchers in this regard for his career. In other words, the numbers, especially spanning multiple seasons, usually don’t lie.

- 1st time through the order: .221/.282/.357, .279 wOBA

- 2nd time through the order: .231/.298/.403, .304 wOBA

- 3rd time through the order: .278/.349/.526, .370 wOBA

By the sixth inning on Tuesday we can suspect that a third time through the order may not have panned out well for the veteran right-hander. Even with Maldonado behind the plate and generally positive results up to that point in the game, it was too much of a risk in a division title race. The decision to remove Odorizzi by the numbers, historically speaking, was most probably the correct one.

We can also go a bit further and highlight trends during the game itself that clues us in to whether the decision to remove Odorizzi was sound. One area that I like to observe during a game are exit velocities on batted balls and if there are any notable fluctuations from inning to inning. Below is the average exit velocity on batted balls by inning and it was becoming increasingly clear Odorizzi may have been pitching on borrowed time as the game progressed.

- 1st inning: 88.7 MPH

- 2nd inning: 79.4 MPH

- 3rd inning: 95.8 MPH

- 4th inning: 93.6 MPH

- 5th inning: 97.2 MPH

Incidentally, Odorizzi did face two Seattle hitters three times in this game: J.P. Crawford and Mitch Haniger. The former hit a double with two outs in the fifth inning with an exit velocity of 98.9 MPH. So, you know, a healthy hit with a .790 expected batting average. Haniger flew out to center field in his third at-bat with another healthy exit velocity of 98.8 MPH with a .500 expected batting average for the final out of the day for Houston’s starter. Even the preceding hitters were starting to hit the ball better off Odorizzi, which we can notice in the average exit velocity numbers above. When those readings start to increase, even if the damage is limited, you better look out.

In short, the decision to remove Odorizzi from the game following the fifth inning was defensible and logical. At the same time, one can still appreciate the pitcher’s honesty. Was it ultimately the right time or place to voice those opinions? Probably not, but it remains a refreshing departure from the usual pre-packaged comments most athletes provide. With the air supposedly now clear between all parties, let’s see how the next start unfolds.