Jake Odorizzi is already on high alert. When the Twins visit Dodger Stadium in late April, Justin Turner expects to get his rematch against Odorizzi.
The Los Angeles third baseman will take the extra motivation of a fantasy football championship game loss to the Odo-Eaters into that series, and the Twins righthander knows it.
“I’ve never faced him, so I expect there will be some added angst to those at-bats,” said Odorizzi, reigning champion of a league started by his former teammate Phil Hughes. His secret? “[Ravens quarterback] Lamar Jackson. You draft the guy who scores the most points all season in the 10th round, you’re going to be pretty solid,” Odorizzi said.
Now the veteran pitcher is working on adding a little more who-saw-this-coming to his own repertoire. Odorizzi spent last winter working out at the Florida Baseball Ranch in Lakeland, breaking down the mechanics of his delivery, and the process paid off with remarkable results.
Odorizzi added nearly 2 miles per hour to his fastball, according to MLB’s Statcast measurements, giving him an average velocity of 93.0 mph, a career high and an impressive gain for a 29-year-old. The improvement was steady across every pitch, giving him an 84.8-mph slider and a 75.6-mph curve, and helped him to 178 strikeouts, the most in his six-year career.
“I learned what was most effective for me and how to get the most out of my motion,” said Odorizzi, who posted a 3.51 ERA and in July was selected to his first All-Star team. “Now we’ve kind of moved on to Phase 2.”
Yes, he’s driving from his Tampa home to Lakeland twice a week again, this time focused more on his legs than his pitching arm. FBR owner Randy Sullivan has installed “a lot of good toys and technology that I’m fortunate enough to get to use,” Odorizzi said.
His favorite this year is a force-plate mound, which measures the direction a pitcher’s leg is pushing during his delivery, and the force behind it. Combined with video, it allows pitchers to make sure their push-off is as effective as possible.
“It’s refining your talent. It’s taking your ability and working on it to get better. My impulse force, as it’s called, went up 20 percent in just a week of using it, and the data allows me to see what that does to my pitches,” Odorizzi said. “The longer you can stay back, the better you can achieve a late launch, which is what you want. Getting more force into the ground means you’re using your backside more, which helps you conserve your [arm] energy better. It’s not just [more] velocity, it’s sustaining better velocity for longer sessions.”
That’s an encouraging prospect for a pitcher who lasted through the sixth inning only 10 times in 30 starts in 2019.
“If you look at where Jake was just a couple of years ago, and the mechanics and confidence he’s got behind him now, it just makes me so excited to see him this year,” Twins pitching coach Wes Johnson said. “He was an All-Star, and he’s not satisfied. That tells you so much.”
Odorizzi even convinced Johnson to purchase the force-plate mound technology for Twins training camp in Fort Myers.
“There are like five of these in use in the country,” Odorizzi said. “I’m lucky I get to use one, because I’ve seen results.”
If he sounds motivated, well, that’s what a big multiyear contract — or the absence of one — will do. Odorizzi, sensing that the need to forfeit a draft pick to sign him might keep teams from offering him a long-term deal, accepted the Twins’ qualifying offer of one year at $17.8 million in November. Unless the Twins offer him a long-term deal before then — a prospect that Odorizzi is open to — he will become a free agent again this fall, and this time without any draft-pick compensation attached.
Odorizzi feared a slow market for pitching, forcing him to wait around for a contract that might never come, as happened to Lance Lynn and Dallas Keuchel in the past two years. But free-agent pitchers found plenty of willing spenders this winter, with all of the top players signing before December ended.
Does he regret taking himself off the market so quickly?
“Not a bit. I made my decision based on the best knowledge we had at the time. Money started flying around pretty quick, and the market got pretty hot, but nobody predicted that,” Odorizzi said. “You have to make a decision so early, you’re going on incomplete information. We talked with teams, and I’m happy with my decision to take my chances on another strong year. If the worst-case scenario is almost $18 million this year, I can live with that.”