Adam Ottavino’s homecoming [2019 Season Review]

(Keith Allison – CC BY-SA 2.0)

The Yankees have made it a tradition to have a lockdown bullpen, and Adam Ottavino was the latest addition to the crew entering this season. The Brooklyn native grew up a Yankees fan and wanted to be here, so signing him to a three-year deal was a no-brainer especially after his strong bullpen work in Colorado. As expected, the 34 year-old righty was terrific in relief. He didn’t finish the season as strong as everyone would have liked, notably in the playoffs, but perhaps that was a product of his heavy early season workload.

An effectively wild regular season

Ottavino posted a career-best 1.90 ERA this year, but it wasn’t always easy. Control has never been the righty’s strong suit, but because his stuff (particularly his slider) is so nasty, he can get away with it. Even though he walked 40 batters in 66 1/3 innings, he had no issue preventing runs because he only allowed six homers and 47 hits. All that was good for an 87.8 percent strand rate, the best of his major league career.

Ottavino was at his best during nearly a one-and-a-half month run from the end of April through early June. During that span, from April 22nd to June 5th, Ottavino pitched 17 1/3 innings and didn’t allow a single run. He also inherited 12 runners and didn’t allow a single one to score. This was pretty typical during that run:

Ottavino was so dominant and became Aaron Boone’s go to guy in relief. Perhaps too much so, in fact. By the midpoint of the season, the skipper called on Ottavino in 37 of the team’s 81 games.

Even with all that wear, he remained strong. He had sub-2 ERAs in June and July and a 2.53 ERA in August. But come September, perhaps his workload finally got to him. He pitched in ten games in the final month of the year, but allowed a run in half of those outings. Looking back, it was a precursor for what would come in the postseason, as discussed in the next section.

Postseason Struggles

Even though Ottavino was terrific for the vast majority of 2019, I figure most will remember his difficulties in October. The righty didn’t record an out in four of his eight appearances in the playoffs, although Aaron Boone’s usage of Ottavino was somewhat peculiar. Ottavino basically became a righty specialist with a quick hook, as Boone pulled him twice after one batter and twice after two hitters faced.

Ottavino pitched in all three games against the Twins, but only recorded outs in Game 2. His outings in the first and third games were basically carbon copies: he came in to face Nelson Cruz, walked him, and was subsequently pulled. Boone let him pitch a clean seventh inning in Game 2 with the score already well in the Yankees’ favor, 8-1.

Things didn’t get better in the ALCS, unfortunately. Ottavino pitched in every game except Game 5, but mostly struggled. He was fine in the Yankees’ Game 1 win when he blanked Houston in the 7th while up 5-0, but things went downhill from there. The next night, Ottavino came in to face George Springer with one out in the fifth inning and the Yankees ahead 2-1. You may recall that Chad Green was cruising before Boone lifted him for Otto in this spot. Here’s what happened:

Ottavino failed to record an out in each of his next two appearances (Games 3 and 4). Boone didn’t go to him in Game 5, but gave the ball again to the righty in Game 6 while down 4-2 in the seventh. This time, Ottavino got the job done. He sat down Martín Maldonado, Josh Reddick, and George Springer in order. Perhaps that outing would have turned his postseason around had the Yankees completed the comeback.

What’s Next?

Year two of his three-year deal with the Yankees shouldn’t be all that different than year one. Ottavino will be counted on in high leverage situations once again, a role he’s apt to handle. The early Steamer projections call for a 4.34 ERA and 4.40 FIP in 2020, but that seems incredibly pessimistic. I’d hammer the under on that.

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1 Comment

  1. RetroRob

    It could be nothing, but Ottavino’s two worst months in 2018 were in August and September. In 2019, he was better the final two months compared to the prior year, but not as dominant, and then he was spotty in October. For his career, his second-to-worst monthly ERA is in September.

    They used him heavily this year. A return of Dellin would help reduce some of his workload, hopefully keeping him sharp come October 2020.

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