Why did Jake Odorizzi accept the Qualifying Offer?

To the surprise of many (myself included) Jake Odorizzi accepted his qualifying offer earlier this week for $17.8MM. Despite being only 30 years old and the second best pitcher on a 101 win team he will now be pitching on a one year deal. Most media sources predicted much more than that, such as MLB Trade Rumors who predicted he would get three years – $51MM. However, if Odorizzi was getting offers in the $50MM range chance are he would have accepted one of them instead of settling for a one year deal, much like Will Smith already has done.

So why didn’t Eppler (or any other GM) give Odorizzi a one year deal for say $19MM or a two year deal for $30MM? That seems to be enough of a bargain to justify giving up a 3rd round draft pick. But if no one was looking to give Odorizzi that kind of money maybe we’re missing something. Let’s see if we can find out what that is.

Methodology:

All performance projections and statistics will come from Fangraphs, pitch tracking data will come from Brooks Baseball , and Statcast data will come from Baseball Savant.

The Basics

Age in 2020 – 30
Throws – Right handed
2019 final results – 159 IP, 4.3 war, 3.51 era
2020 projection – 179 IP, 2.5 war, 4.29 era

Scouting Report

Here are the pitches thrown by Odorizzi in 2019

Brooks identifies six separate pitches for The Deodorizer (both mine and Spellcheck’s favorite nickname for the right hander). However both the fourseam and sinker as well as the slider and cutter have very similar profiles. So we will focus on Odorizzi’s four unique pitches: fastball – (57.79%), cutter – (18.86%), split finger – (17.04%), and curve (6.31%).

Odorrizi is a very fastball dependent pitcher and threw the pitch about 7% more than league average. The 93 mph velocity on his fastball is an improvement of 2 mph over last year but still only 80th out of 168 qualified starters. His strength is the movement he gets which is well above average both in terms of vertical and horizontal break. He typically threw his fastball at or just above the upper quadrant of the strike zone. This may not sound like a top tier fastball but in reality he got elite results with it. His fastball’s 1.26 runs above average per 100 pitches ranks as ninth in the league ahead of elite pitchers like Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom. It looks something like this:

The cutter/slider (18.86% usage) sits around 86 and breaks in the opposite horizontal direction of his fastball, moving away from the right handed batter. He utilizes the pitch low and away while attempting to induce weak contact instead of go for the strikeout. The cut fastball provided serviceable but unspectacular results at 0.63 runs above average per 100 pitches, ranking 50th out of 137 starting pitchers with a similar pitch.

The split finger (17.04% usage) was not quite as effective of a pitch generating -0.29 runs below average per 100 pitches. It moves in the same plane as the fastball but with more drop and less velocity. He uses it primarily against left handers.

Lastly Odorizzi throws a “show me” curveball to sneak in a called strike every once in a while, normally on an 0-0 count. The pitch was worth -1.84 runs below average per 100 pitches which is probably why he only throws it 6.3% of the time.

Odorizzi is doing a good job of maximizing his strengths. His fastball is his best pitch but he can’t throw it much more than he already does. He might consider using his cutter a bit more than his splitter but the cutter has been the better pitch in previous years so 15%-20% for each seems right.

The Numbers

Odorizzi generated an above average number of strikeouts and swinging strikes. This means that although his K% might drift closer to his career rate next year it seems to be a sustainable improvement. An above average walk rate is not worrying considering he throws to the margins of the strike zone intentionally. However, his career walk rate has been in the mid 3’s so a little regression is expected there as well. Overall though nothing to be overly concerned with here.

Odorizzi’s ERA and FIP both look well above average and while his BABIP and LOB% appear a bit lucky but not outside of the typical margin of error. What stands out however is that Odorizzi’s xFIP and SIERA are near a point higher than his FIP and ERA. Stats like xFIP and SIERA substitute hr’s allowed for an expected amount of hr’s allowed based on the amount of fly balls a pitcher allows. So let’s look into Odorizzi’s batted ball data.

From the data that you can see Odorizzi is clearly a fly ball pitcher with a below average ground ball% and an above average fly ball%. He also doesn’t limit hard contact having an exit velocity and Barrels% right around league average. So the big outlier in this data set is Odorizzi’s HR/FB rate at 8.8%, almost half the last year’s league average rate of 15.9%.

There’s a chance this is a skill Odorizzi has developed as he posted an above average HR/FB in 2018 as well. However HR/FB rate is typically volatile from year to year. Add in the fact that most pitchers in 2019 saw significant HR/FB spikes due to the Happy Fun ball and it seems odd Odorizzi’s somehow improved. So I went looking for some lucky fly balls that look like this:

And this

These are not isolated incidents. Odorizzi had 13 Barrels that were caught last year. That’s more than any other current free agent had in 2019. And with the exception of Bumgarner who had 12, no other pitcher projected to get over 20 million next year had even 5.

If we overlay these 13 Barrels over Angels Stadium per Baseball Savant it appears as if 6-8 of these outs would have instead been home runs. If we add say 7 home runs back into the calculations Odorizzi’s HR/FB rate jumps from 8.8% to 12.7%. Now this is obviously an oversimplification, there could be some home runs that don’t go out in Angels stadium that do out in Target Field. However, I think it would be fair to assume we can’t expect a 8.8% HR/FB rate from Odorizzi going forward.

As per Fangraphs

Lastly, we can see that Odorizzi has a difficult time pitching deep into games. He has historically struggled the third time through the batting order, probably due to his limited pitch repertoire. This caps the total number of inning he can throw per year and will make it difficult for him to reach the 179 innings Steamer projected him for in 2020.

Conclusion

Looking at Steamer’s projection of Odorizzi, a 4.21 era feels a bit generous but it does not seem outlandish. Using Steamer’s projection of 2.5 war at the free agent rate of $8MM per win we forecast Odorizzi could get $20MM on the open market for 2020. Take into account the loss of a draft pick that would be attached to him and Odorizzi already looks like a questionable signing at $17.8MM.

*Update after writing Steamer changed Odorizzi’s projection to a 4.61 era and 2.3 war

So is Odorizzi really the pitcher we saw in 2019 or an average pitcher who got stuck with a qualifying offer? Unfortunately for him it appears the league is betting it’s the latter and considering the cheaper options on the market I can’t say I blame them.

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