- Jake Odorizzi never used his curveball as a primary pitch while he pitched in Tampa. That appears to be changing now that he's relocated to Minnesota.
Jake Odorizzi made 126 starts in his career before joining the Twins. In none of those 126 starts did he ever throw more than 17 curveballs. In fact, he tossed double-digit curves just nine times, or in 7.1% of his outings. Last season, he had more games where he threw zero curveballs—four—than ones where he threw at least 10 (three). The deuce has always been part of Odorizzi’s repertoire, but never an important one.
Odorizzi took the ball for his Minnesota Twins debut last weekend, and make an excellent first impression. He tossed six shutout innings against the Orioles, allowing two hits and two walks while striking out seven batters, in what was ultimately a 3–2 loss for the Twins. Still, Odorizzi more than did his part in typical fashion. He lived largely on his four-seamer and splitter, throwing 38 of the former and 23 of the latter, while mixing in a handful of cutters and sliders. There was one major difference, however. Odorizzi, in his first start with the Twins, matched his career-high in curveballs thrown in a game, breaking off 17. Based on the results he got with the curve, we’ll likely be seeing plenty more of them from him this season.
Before getting to Odorizzi’s mastery of the Orioles, I need to stress what a departure his pitch mix in his Twins debut was from what we had seen from him over the first 126 starts of his career. Odorizzi threw his curveball just 5.7% of the time last season. For his career, that number is 4.9%, and he has never thrown it more than 7.7% of the time in a single season. Odorizzi’s 17 curveballs against the Orioles accounted for 18.3% of his total pitches in the outing. Not only did the 17 curves match a career high, the 18.3% share set a new high mark for the offering in a single start. That means that the curve wasn’t simply the right pitch in the right matchup; it will likely be a key part of Odorizzi’s arsenal all season.
Five of Odorizzi’s curves produced whiffs, including a strike three against Adam Jones. Two of those came in 0–0 counts, one was on 0–1, and one was on 2–0. The Orioles put three of the curves in play. Two went for groundouts, both of which had exit velocities of less than 63 mph, while the other was a popout. Of the remaining nine curves Odorizzi threw, three were fouled off, one was a called strike, and five were balls. The final accounting: five whiffs, three weak outs, five balls, three foul balls and one called strike. The pitch is a true weapon, and we’ll see him throw it more often.
Odorizzi’s first curveball of the game was the one that produced a third strike. On a 2–2 count against Jones, Odorizzi spun a sharp-breaking curve spotted well just off the outside corner. Jones swung through it for the strikeout.
Any pitch that a pitcher goes to in a 2–2 count with a man on second is clearly designed to be an out-pitch, and Odorizzi’s execution on the pitch against Jones shows why it’s an offering he’ll return to in two-strike counts. The next curve we’ll look at, however, opened Tim Beckham’s first plate appearance of the game.
It’s an unspectacular curveball in this specific case, evaluated solely on break and location. What makes this special, however, is the fact that it’s a 0-0 count. Beckham is almost sure to let this go as the first pitch in the plate appearance, unless he’s sitting curveball. All Odorizzi needed to do was get it over the plate to jump ahead. That he was confident enough to go to the pitch to start a plate appearance, and that he still wanted to paint a corner, gives a good indication of how confident he is in the pitch.
Pedro Alvarez, who was batting behind Beckham in this game, provided a lesson in what happens when you’re surprised by a 0–0 curveball. After the success Odorizzi had with the pitch against Beckham, he went right back to it to kick off the plate appearance against Alvarez. He did a better job of hitting his north-south spot this time around, and that sent the curve breaking beneath the strike zone.
Whiffs are ideal, but regularly inducing weak contact is just as important. Odorizzi did that all three times the Orioles put the curve in play, resulting in two groundouts and a popout. The grounders came off the bats of Trey Mancini and Tim Beckham. Both were spotted well on the outer-third, with Mancini and Beckham rolling over them feebly to the left side. They were effectively the same pitch with the same result, with one in an 0–1 count, and the other in a 1–1 count.
Consider what we’ve seen from Odorizzi in this column. Using the curve in all counts? Check. Going to it against hitters from both sides of the plate? Yep. Whiffs and weak contact? Absolutely. Called strikes, too? You know it. In other words, everything a pitcher hopes to get out of a pitch, Odorizzi got with the curve against the Orioles.
That’s a filthy 0–1 curveball to Craig Gentry, an offering that only could have produced a whiff or a grounder. It resulted in the former, putting Gentry in an 0–2 hole. Odorizzi finished him off two pitches later with a four-seam fastball.
Odorizzi made 126 starts before joining the Twins. He never threw more than 17 curveballs in any of them, and he hit that number just once. Odorizzi has made one start with the Twins, and he doubled his number of career starts with 17 curves in the outing. That alone would be noteworthy, but the effectiveness of the pitch makes it newsworthy. Odorizzi’s lack of a go-to breaking ball has held him back in his career. If the curve is now the third reliable pitch in his repertoire, joining the four-seamer and splitter, he could be in for new heights in 2018.