An April 20 start against the Angels was a low-water mark for Jake Odorizzi, certainly in his 14 months with the Astros, if not his entire career. The 11-year veteran failed to get out of the first inning in that start, allowing the Angels to go: Walk, single, walk, walk, single, strikeout, strikeout, walk, forcing Dusty Baker to make the walk (wink) to retrieve him as well as navigate the next 8.1 innings with his bullpen in a 6-0 loss.
And thus ended Odorizzi's 26th start as an Astro, a stretch in which he was 6-9 with a 4.59 ERA and a 1.35 WHIP. In just two of those starts did Odorizzi make it to the sixth inning and he got pulled before the fifth in 14 starts.
Part of the reason Odorizzi got pulled so early and so often are his well-documented struggles the third time through the lineup.
First plate appearance vs Odorizzi, 2021: .213/.285/.351
When your first couple of times through the lineup is like Adam Everett up there with a bat, and the third time is like facing a juiced-up Rogers Hornsby, it's a problem. And the Astros knew it could be an issue, because the numbers showed things got ugly for Odorizzi the third time through the lineup since the 2017 season.
That said, in his three starts since that April 20 nightmare start, Odorizzi, who won’t take his scheduled turn in the rotation this weekend against the Nationals but could start Monday in Boston, has been downright lights-out, to the tune of one earned run, six hits, 12 strikeouts and four walks in 17.2 innings. That's a 0.51 ERA and a 0.57 WHIP and his last two starts have seen Odorizzi throw back-to-back scoreless outings.
So what the heck is happening?
On one hand, you can thank the scheduling gods for setting his last three starts against the Rangers, Mariners and Tigers. His career ERA against those three teams are 3.14 (Tigers), 3.23 (Rangers), and 3.99 (Mariners). Raise your hand if you're surprised to read that Odorizzi's career ERA through 225 games is 3.93. I'll wait.
On the other, Odorizzi is having a run of deserved luck. Whereas I do enjoy telling you not to worry about hitters because their Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP) is unsustainably low, the opposite is in play for pitchers. In his first three starts of the season, Odorizzi's BABIP was .375, .444 and 1.000, respectively. That's … horribly unlucky. Even more so when you consider that the American League average on balls put in to play in 2022 is .278, well under last year’s .291. So to note that his BABIP in his last three starts (April 26, May 2, and May 8) was .000, .222, .091 shows a correction, a regression to the mean, unsustainably lucky as the counter-balance to being unsustainably unlucky.
For instance, in this string of good starts, Odorizzi allowed nine balls to be put in play with an exit velocity greater than 99mph (his average in 2022 is an exit velocity of 87.4 mph), and only three of them were hits – a home run by the Rangers' Adolis Garcia, a single by Seattle's Ty France, and a double by Jonathan Schoop. There were 10 balls put into play that had an xBA (Expected Batting Average, based on launch angle and exit velocity) of more than .500 – essentially at least a 50% chance of it resulting in a hit. Opponents made outs in four of those chances. Conversely, 39 balls were put in play with an xBA under .500 – and only two of those dropped in for a hit (or, in Adolis Garcia's case, left the yard).
It should also be noted that, after Odorizzi's 2022 debut in Anaheim in which he didn't walk a single one of the 18 batters he faced, Odorizzi walked seven of the next 31 batters who stepped in against him. Six of those seven batters went on to score, most of them in the aforementioned disastrous start against Anaheim. Related, Odorizzi has walked just four of the last 60 batters he has faced.
So what Odorizzi is going through seems to be baseball's age-old adage of "put less runners on base and fewer dudes will score." So, is Jake Odorizzi as good of a pitcher as he's shown in his last three starts? No, because Jake Odorizzi is not suddenly Pedro Martinez circa 2000. But is he as bad as he was in his first three starts? Nope. The answer is somewhere in between.
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