Written by: Andrea Arcadipane (@scoutgirlreport)
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In late January, the Yankees traded relief pitcher Adam Ottavino (and prospect Frank German) to the Boston Red Sox for cash considerations or a player to be named later. Many fans considered 2020 to be a down year for Ottavino, but that doesn’t mean he won’t perform better for Boston this year. Let’s take a look and see where things went wrong in 2020, and if there is any hope for improvement in 2021.
Overall 2020 Performance
Out of the 50 balls that were put in play last season, 25 were hard hit (50%). League average hard hit rate is 35%. Ottavino’s strikeout rate remains about league average (~20%) and his walk rate, while on the higher side (11%), was the lowest it’s been since 2016.
Of those 50 balls in play, 20 ended up hits (40%). He ended the season with 12 earned runs in 18.1 innings.
While I understand why Yankee fans were upset with Ottavino for not performing as well as he did in 2019, he did not have a terrible year in 2020. Regardless, there were some notable changes that may affect him heading into this season.
Changes to his Pitch Mix
In 2020, Ottavino reduced the number of cutters and increased the number of sinkers thrown. The opponent SLG against his cutter was 2.000, and resulted in one of Ottavino’s two home runs. He only threw 16 cutters in 2020, but the opponent SLG has always been on the higher side, as it was .762 in 2019.
Compared to 2019, his cutter ended up in the heart of the zone much more frequently, which contributed to the high opponent SLG.
He threw the cutter 10% less than in 2019, which if he continues to do should work in his favor. His slider and sinker have better movement and more effective results.
Ottavino always relied on his sinker, but did so more often in 2020. His sinker has above average vertical and horizontal movement. That being said, the whiff rate on his sinker decreased by 5% from 2019 to 2020, meaning hitters were able to make contact more frequently.
The slider is Ottavino’s most frequently used pitch. It had well above average break in 2020, and yielded the same whiff% as in 2019.
Increased Exit Velocity and Decreased Launch Angle
Before we get into Ottavino’s exit velocity and launch angle, it is important to remember that the sample size is very small, and may be exaggerating the values below as a result. Ottavino is a relief pitcher, so his sample size is only 18.1 innings for 2020.
If we look at his two most frequently used pitches, the sinker and the slider, we can see that the two experienced significant jumps in exit velocity (which is typically not a good sign).
That being said, there were only 50 balls in play that Ottavino was responsible for. Narrowing the sample even further, out of the 50 balls in play only a fraction were sinkers and sliders. A couple of harder hit balls against each pitch could have thrown off these average velocities.
On a more positive note, Ottavino’s average launch angle decreased significantly from 2019 to 2020:
This is important because if the launch angle remains as low or high as possible (avoid launch angles in the 20-40 degree range), the pitcher is more likely to avoid contact that could lead to a barreled ball. His decreased launch angle implies that the balls in play were typically hit closer to the ground.
This idea is supported by Ottavino’s ground ball rate increasing from 40.8% in 2019 to 52% in 2020. It makes sense that Ottavino’s pitches are more frequently ending up as ground balls because he increased the use of his sinker (which often induces ground ball contact).
Fielding Independent Stats
If we look at Ottavino’s FIP and BABIP, there is some hope that his limited appearances in 2020 consisted of some unlucky events.
Ottavino’s FIP is 2.57 runs less than his ERA, which is a significant difference. If you want to learn more about FIP and ERA, and how they relate to one another, check out this article. Generally, when the FIP is that much lower than the ERA, it indicates that the defense, ballpark, etc. may have been responsible for certain pitch outcomes. FIP isolates outcomes that only Ottavino is responsible for (strike outs, walks, home runs, hit by pitch etc.)
The high BABIP is also indicative that certain plays that were out of Ottavino’s control did not end up in his favor.
What can we expect from Ottavino in 2021?
While 2020 was not one of his best seasons, it is not fair to make judgements about any decline considering the sample size is so limited (only 50 balls in play).
Ottavino should perform better in 2021 with the Red Sox. The movement on his pitches remains above average and he is still executing his two more relied upon pitchers (sinker and slider) well.
What are your thoughts on Adam Ottavino? Were you happy with this trade?
Follow NEW P365 MLB Analyst Andrea Arcadipane on Twitter! @scoutgirlreport
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Graphs and statistics courtesy of Baseball Savant and FanGraphs
Featured image courtesy of the respective photographer and the New York Post