This year’s hot-stove class of free agents, particularly starting pitchers, pales in comparison to what is upcoming in 2021, so it’s probably a good thing that Jake Odorizzi is a free agent this season instead of next.
So far, there have yet to be any big splashes in the free agent market, though rumors abound. So far, Odorizzi has been linked to being re-signed by the Twins, inked by the Mets, joining the Blue Jays, and the Giants. He himself has expressed that he wants to play for a contender on his next big-money contract.
Odorizzi’s career to-date has been a merry-go-round of trades since the Brewers drafted him in the first round of the 2008 draft. The Brewers sent Odorizzi to the Royals as part of the multiplayer Zach Greinke trade, then KC sent him to Tampa Bay as part of the James Shields trade, and in the winter of 2018, Tampa sent him to the Twins in exchange for minor league Jermaine Palacios.
His first season in a Twins’ uniform, Odorizzi was a league-average pitcher, who over the course of 164 ⅓ innings posted a 104 ERA- and a 98 FIP-. While he didn’t exactly dazzle, he did manage a 2.6 fWAR, and although he was a strain in the bullpen, in two-thirds of his starts (since he went less than six innings in 22/32 starts). It wasn’t a disaster, but very much an average year from an average pitcher.
2019 was a surprisingly different story since following that average season Odorizzi posted a career-year. Again, he didn’t go deep into games, only averaging 5 ⅓ innings per start, but despite regularly being relieved early, he was still going out there like clockwork every fifth day. In total, he only threw 159 innings, but his 71 ERA- and 73 FIP- were career-best by a longshot.
That season, Odorizzi posted a career-best strikeout rate (at 27 percent) and his best home-run rate. By keeping the ball in the yard, limiting walks, and increasing his strikeouts, strong numbers unsurprisingly followed.
Despite his major step-forward in 2019, 2020 was an injury-plagued disaster. Despite the additional time off and rest due to the COVID-shortened season, Odorizzi ended up starting only four games and totaling 13 ⅔ innings. In the two month season, he suffered from a blister on his right (throwing) hand, and ended up missing time after an Alex Gordon line drive hit him right in the chest. He didn’t even get an appearance in either of the Twins two playoff losses.
It’s hard to gauge how Odorizzi will perform in 2021. There’s not much of a track-record for a well-above-average pitcher, and most of his career he’s been a 1.5-2.5 win player. Although last season’s injuries were more superficial than acute, even when he’s been healthy he has only thrown more than 170 innings once, and it’s been four years since he has tossed 165 innings.
The good news is that last year’s injuries were a) minor and b) anomalous (especially the chest contusion). This is not a pitcher who is repeatedly on the injured list with arm or back problems, but it is a pitcher who is not likely to be much of an innings-eater. This is probably a decent number three starter who will give a team 150 solid innings.
With the expected return of Michael Pineda for the full 2021 season, the Twins likely feel less pressured to re-sign Odorizzi than they would otherwise. After getting burned on their qualifying offer in a COVID shortened season, it’s hard to tell if they’d have an appetite to catch the magic they saw firsthand in 2019. It wouldn’t be surprising at all if he ends up with the Mets, where there’d be little pressure to be much more than a number three starter behind true ‘ace’ Jacob deGrom and flamethrower Noah Syndergaard.