With the Twins on the brink of elimination, they turn to their No. 2 starter, the 29-year-old, free-agent-to-be Jake Odorizzi.
159 innings over 30 starts, 3.51 ERA (3.36 FIP, 4.23 DRA), 139 H, 178 K, 53 BB, 16 HR, 19 percent K-BB rate, 35 percent GB rate
Why Odorizzi in Game 3
Odorizzi seemed like a slam-dunk choice to start in Game 2, yet Rocco Baldelli held him for Game 3. The right-hander faced the Yankees twice in the regular season and his one poor start came in Minnesota, so it isn’t just that.
But Odorizzi is an extreme fly ball pitcher, which better suits Target Field than Yankee Stadium. Among pitchers with at least 150 innings this year, Odorizzi was tied for the second-lowest groundball rate.
Furthermore, Odorizzi may have needed time for health reasons. He left his start on Sept. 24 with hamstring tightness and missed the season finale. He’ll have to prove he’s healthy, in addition to his ability to compete with the Yankees’ lineup.
Odorizzi sports one of the best fastballs in baseball and he uses it often. His four-seamer leads his repertoire ahead of a cutter, splitter and curveball, though he’s mostly a fastball-splitter pitcher with few curves.
Of his secondary pitches, he throws the cutter nearly exclusively to righties, while saving the splitter for left-handed batters. The curveball is mostly there to steal strikes early in a count, not as a putaway pitch. The 75.4 mph offering won’t be seen frequently.
Odorizzi’s cutter is more along the lines of James Paxton’s cutter than CC Sabathia’s cutter as it’s legitimately offspeed, nearly in the vein of a slider. Odorizzi averaged a career-high 92.9 mph on his fastball while his cutter comes in at 85.4 mph. Both the four-seamer and cutter get significant horizontal break.
|% to RHB||% to LHB||Avg. Velo (mph)||Whiff %|
As you can see in the table above, his fastball is potent, getting swings and misses at an extremely high rate for a starter. With a new pitching coach and more velocity, he’s throwing it more often and more effectively than ever.
Odorizzi’s four-seam/cutter approach against righties has led to a significant platoon split. Same-sided hitters batted just .194/.266/.319 (57 OPS+) while lefties hit .277/.335/.426 (100 OPS+) off the right-hander.
With the Yankees sporting seven right-handed batters in their regular lineup, Odorizzi will have to hit them with fastballs up in the zone and cutters/sliders down and away. If his season splits hold up, this could be an ideal matchup for the right-hander.
Odorizzi has had a confusing career against the Yankees, particularly since joining the Twins. In 2018, he was slammed at Yankee Stadium before pitching a gem at Target Field. In 2019, the opposite happened.
He shut out the Yankees for six innings on May 4, allowing just a pair of singles around four walks. On July 24 in Minnesota, he was slammed for nine runs in 3 2/3 innings, allowing extra-base hits to Edwin Encarnacion, Didi Gregorius, Mike Tauchman, Aaron Hicks and Gleyber Torres.
Six of the projected members of the Yankees’ lineup have home runs against him, though he’s held the Bombers to a .215/.303/.424 average in his career. He’s been particularly good against Encarnacion, Gregorius and Brett Gardner, but Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge have hit him well in small samples.
Keys to the Start
Homers, homers, homers: These first two keys are carryovers from Randy Dobnak’s Game 2 outing, but they’re just as important for Odorizzi.
Dobnak kept the Yankees in the ballpark while doing little else. Odorizzi had a career-low 0.91 home runs per nine innings, yet his flyball tendencies could take a turn for the worse against the Bombers.
Going deep: The Twins have gotten a total of six innings from their starters in Games 1 and 2. Even with a day off before Game 3, they still need length from Odorizzi with a bullpen game looming in Game 4.
Granted, the Yankees also have a J.A. Happ-led bullpen game coming, but this series has exposed the Twins’ lack of capable arms.
Via Baseball Prospectus, the Twins are 9-1 this season when Odorizzi completes six innings. Even five strong innings with Taylor Rogers looming for two frames would be a godsend for Minnesota.
Fastball (up and) in the zone: Odorizzi has had average command this season, but that won’t cut it against the Yankees. They’ve pulverized Twins pitchers with their selectivity in the first two games of this series and they did the same to Odorizzi back in July. If he can’t throw effective strikes with his fastball, he’ll be in for a short outing.
But if he can recreate his May success in the Bronx and throw his fastball by the Yankees’ righty-heavy nine, he can helps the Twins extend this series.