Jake Odorizzi will take the ball for the Twins tomorrow evening at Target Field. With Minnesota facing elimination, it could be the impending free agent’s final start in their uniform. Odorizzi has started 62 games for the Twins since coming over from the Rays via trade prior to the 2018 season. Have those performances been enough to warrant a qualifying offer?
MLBTR’s Connor Byrne recently examined the qualifying offer market for pitchers (and position players, for that matter), noting that Odorizzi presented a borderline case. On the surface, his 2019 numbers would seem to make a QO a no-brainer. This season, Odorizzi worked to 3.51 ERA and 3.36 FIP, each of which ranked in the top 25 among pitchers with 150+ innings. Under the tutelage of first-year pitching coach Wes Johnson, Odorizzi’s stuff ticked up, as his 93 MPH average four-seam fastball, per Brooks Baseball, was a career-high. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he shattered his previous career-best strikeout rate (27.1%, up nearly five points from last season). Further, Odorizzi was essentially immune to the leaguewide home run spike this season, coughing up a career-low 0.91 HR/9. Put it together, and Odorizzi was worth around 4 wins above replacement, per both Fangraphs and Baseball Reference, easily worth the approximately $18MM he would lock in if he were to accept a qualifying offer.
Of course, though, teams look beyond a player’s previous-year stats in projecting future performance. Odorizzi doesn’t turn 30 until March and has started at least 28 games in each of his six full MLB seasons, so durability and age are on his side. Yet entering this season, his track record was more that of a back-end innings eater than the #2 starter he seemed to be in 2019. From 2016-2018, Odorizzi worked to a 4.09 ERA with a 4.60 FIP, with one of the league’s lowest ground ball rates causing home run problems. Even in 2019, Odorizzi remained a fly ball pitcher, part of the reason the Twins chose to hold him for Monday in Minnesota rather than having him work in hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium. It’s difficult to imagine him maintaining an 8.8% HR/FB rate moving forward, and his pre-2019 strikeout and walk numbers were hardly eye-catching. If a few more of Odorizzi’s fly balls begin clearing fences and/or his strikeouts regress to their previous levels, his elite run prevention numbers could bounce back up in a hurry.
It’s also notable that Odorizzi’s pure stuff, even with the aforementioned velocity uptick, isn’t world-beating. Per Statcast, Odorizzi has below-average fastball velocity (23rd percentile), fastball spin (40th percentile) and curveball spin (17th percentile). That’s sure to catch the attention of front offices, who increasingly have turned back to valuing raw stuff on the free agent market. Odorizzi can’t rival someone like Zack Wheeler when it comes to GIF-worthy pitching overlays, and just last offseason we saw Dallas Keuchel, whose multi-year track record dwarfed Odorizzi’s, languish on the free agent market after being tagged with a QO.
There’s also the Twins’ situation to consider. Minnesota only has $19.88MM committed to 2020 salaries, per Baseball Reference. They’re sure to exercise Nelson Cruz’s $12MM option and have a hefty slate of arbitration-eligible players, but they’ll nevertheless enter the offseason with ample financial flexibility. They’ll also have plenty of opportunity in the starting rotation. With Odorizzi, Michael Pineda and Kyle Gibson slated to hit free agency and Martín Pérez looking increasingly likely to be bought out, there’s almost nothing in the way of certainty behind José Berríos. Of course, merely having vacancies in the rotation shouldn’t mean the Twins feel compelled to QO Odorizzi if they feel that’d be a questionable investment.
So we’ll turn it over to you, MLBTR readers. How would you advise baseball ops heads Derek Falvey and Thad Levine to handle Odorizzi’s situation this winter?
(poll link for app users)