Perhaps the biggest splash of the 2012-13 offseason occurred when the Kansas City Royals traded top prospect Wil Myers to the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for James Shields. Royals GM Dayton Moore was largely ridiculed for the move, and rightly so. Swapping six years of a cost-controlled, promising outfielder for a more expensive though still undervalued pitcher is all but impossible to justify. The other piece the Rays received in the trade, right-handed pitcher Jake Odorizzi, has been very good. As a side note, Wade Davis has experienced a resurgence since being relegated to a bullpen role for the Royals.
In fact, Odorizzi and Shields each have 2 fWAR this season. Only seven qualified starting pitchers have a higher strikeout rate than Odorizzi. The trade might be referred to as the Shields-Myers deal, but Jake Odorizzi is making a name for himself.
The 2014 season didn't get off to the smoothest of starts for the Rays 24 year-old hurler. He previously had a two-start cup of coffee for the Royals in 2012, and made seven appearances, including four starts for the Rays last season. With the injury to Jeremy Hellickson, Odorizzi made the Rays Opening Day rotation. After hurling six shutout innings against the Texas Rangers in his first outing, he was shelled by the Kansas City Royals his next time out, allowing ten hits and seven runs. That began a five game stretch where Odorizzi pitched to an 8.72 ERA over 21.2 innings. Sure, his peripherals weren't that bad, but they weren't good either. He walked 10.4 percent of hitters and allowed four home runs.
In his 13 starts since then, Odorizzi owns a 2.95 ERA. His strikeout and walk rates are 29.2 percent and 8.1 percent, respectively. Overall he possesses a 26.5 percent strikeout rate which is on par with Masahiro Tanaka and an 8.9 percent walk rate. His xFIP- is 92, and his 88 FIP- is on par with Jeff Samardzija and Zack Greinke. Here's a table comparing the 2014 performances of Odorizzi and Shields.
The 108 ERA- isn't too appealing, but it's also misleading, as Shields has allowed 13 unearned runs compared to just one for Odorizzi. On a per inning basis, Odorizzi has been better, but Shields has pitched far more innings in just two more starts. That isn't to say that Odorizzi is the better pitcher. After all, Shields projects for almost +1 fWAR more than Odorizzi over the remainder of the year. Still, the season-to-date production is worth noting.
Prior to the 2014 season, Odorizzi developed a splitter, which is the pitch du jour among Rays hurlers. That's been an effective offering for him, as it has a 13.7 percent swinging strike rate. However, his fastball has been his best offering. Odorizzi has 21 strikeouts with his four-seam fastball, which is the second highest total in the major leagues behind Ian Kennedy. Of course there's some interplay here. 51.6 percent of his fastballs have been in the top third of the zone and above, while 58.2 percent of his splitters have been in the lower third of the zone or below. That's allowed his fastball, which averages only 90.7 miles per hour, to garner so many whiffs.
Jake Odorizzi has transformed himself. Throughout his minor league career and his brief major league appearances in 2012 and 2013, he produced low walk rates and solid, if not overly impressive, strikeout rates. Since coming up with a splitter, he's posted a very high strikeout rate with an elevated walk rate. His zone percentage has dropped significantly, but he's allowing far less contact. It's unclear if he's this good, but it's clear that he's a different pitcher. The Rays are certainly pleased with the results. The Royals? Probably not so much.
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Chris Moran is a former college baseball player and current law student at Washington University in St. Louis. He's also an assistant baseball coach at Wash U. In addition to Beyond The Box Score, he contributes at Prospect Insider and Gammons Daily. He went to his first baseball game at age two. Follow him on Twitter @hangingslurves