SP Spotlight: Jake Odorizzi and Aaron Nola

There’s always value to be had either later in the draft or in the F/A pool when it comes to pitchers. Even in a pitching-rich era, some starters will falter, but many more will rise to fantasy relevance. In today’s spotlight, I opted for a player who’s been around for a bit and a rookie going into his first full year.

Jake Odorizzi

Tampa Bay Rays LogoOdorizzi has been a favorite later pick of mine for a while, partly due to the fact that I have him on cheap contracts in two leagues. He hasn’t reached ace or even #2 SP status yet, but he’s on his way after 2015. What was the biggest downside to his year? His K/9 dropped from 9.3 in 2014 to 8.0, but that’s still quite solid, and he improved from the first half (7.4 ) to the second (8.4). Other than that, all we can say that’s bad is a worse ERA in the second half, which went with a higher HR/FB (11% compared to 6% in the first half). But given this was only his second full season, I’m not worried and expect improvement moving forward.

Now for the good stuff. He dropped his walk rate by 0.8 to reach 2.4. Though it got worse in the second half, it was only 3.0, and as we’ve learned that’s a tolerable rate when paired with strong strikeout ability. His average fastball velocity improved slightly, as did his swinging strike rate. These aren’t game changers, but any small improvements bode well for the future. Perhaps most important to me is his greatly reduced fly ball rate, from 49% in 2014 to 41% in 2015. I grant that it jumped a bit in the second half (which explains the jump in ERA when paired with league average HR/FB%), but it was 44% — still an improvement from last year. Not every pitcher can be a ground ball expert, but avoiding extreme fly balls will help maintain his improved ERA. Odorizzi is still developing, which shows in equaling his innings pitched from 2014 despite fewer starts. I don’t see #1 SP status in his future, but I would happily expect a peak as an above-average #2 fantasy starter.

Aaron Nola

Philadelphia Phillies LogoI like young pitchers, but at the same time, it’s hard to know what to expect in their first few years. Some take a while to develop, and some hit the gate running. Still others do well in their rookie year, and then the league catches up with them. However, if I’m going to take a risk on a sophomore starter, Nola is one of the top considerations. He doesn’t have elite strikeout stuff (yet), but his swinging strike rate and velocity back up the solid but not elite K/9 of 7.9. His HR/FB ratio was a bit high at 15%, but for a youngster, it’s to be expected. At least he offsets that rate with a higher GB% (48%) than FB% (32%).

What do I like about his game? There wasn’t really any luck factor in his BABIP or strand rate. In any season those could go either way, but it’s nice to see that his fine ERA and WHIP weren’t mirages due to good luck. I’m always a sucker for pitchers who flirt with a 50% ground ball rate, and he could get there. I also love young pitchers who manage to post low walk rates; there are a lot of live arms who can throw hard but miss the strike zone, and Nola isn’t like that. He has a strong first strike percentage, and without high heat he has already had to learn how to pitch instead of just throw.

Finally, although September was a small sample and his ERA and WHIP weren’t great, he flashed very good BB/9 (1.6) ad K/9 (9.0) in five starts. Even if he can’t keep up those rates for a full year, I’ll point to his major league equivalents from 2015: 2.72 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 1.5 BB/9, and 6.8 K/9. Again, maybe he won’t be a strikeout king, but I’ll happily take strong control and ratios because nowadays you can find strikeouts a lot easier than before. At worst, he could be an early-career Jordan Zimmermann, before Zimm improved his strikeout rate in 2014. At best, he could be even better than the new Tigers ace if he can improve his strikeout rate sooner than Zimm did.

 

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Kevin Jebens
Fantasy baseball player since 2000; winning leagues ranging from 12-team H2H to 18-team experts 5x5. Has written for various baseball blogs, including the 2013 Bleed Cubbie Blue Annual.
Kevin Jebens

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