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Thoughts on the Jake Odorizzi trade

The Rangers got a marginal starting pitching for cheap

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Houston Astros v Texas Rangers Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

The offseason got off to a rollicking start for the Texas Rangers yesterday, as they teamed up with the Atlanta Braves to make the first trade of the MLB offseason. Pitcher Kolby Allard goes to the Braves, while Jake Odorizzi and a sum of a cash — reported to be $10 million — go to the Rangers.

Odorizzi is reportedly making $12.5 million in 2023, which means that, given the cash the Braves are kicking in, Texas is paying $2.5 million for Odorizzi in 2023, along with parting with a guy, in Allard, who was going to be on the waiver wire before too long anyway. Odorizzi can also earn up to $3 million in incentives based on innings pitched — $500K at 120 and 130 innings, and $1 million at 140 and 150 innings. That puts the Rangers’ potential payout at $5.5 million, though I suspect if Odorizzi pitches well enough to log 150 innings in 2023, Texas will be more than happy to pay that amount.

I’m rather mystified by this deal, from Atlanta’s point of view. The Braves acquired Odorizzi at the trade deadline from the Houston Astros in exchange for lefthanded pitcher Will Smith. Neither Smith nor Odorizzi had been particularly productive or useful at the time, and neither appeared in the postseason for either Houston or Atlanta. Ed Note — My mistake, Odorizzi appeared in a game against the Phillies for the Braves. We regret the error.

Looking at the Odorizzi/Smith deal as a financial transaction, Smith was in the final year of a three year, $39 million deal that he signed with Atlanta after the 2019 season, with a $1 million buyout of a $13 million team option for 2023 that was going to have to be paid, because no one was going to want to pay Will Smith $13 million to pitch for them in 2023. With roughly one-third of the season remaining, the remaining financial obligation on Smith was $5,571,429, including the buyout, per Cots Contracts.

Odorizzi was in the second year of a two year, $20.25 million deal he signed with the Houston Astros prior to the 2021 season, which featured a $6 million signing bonus, a $6 million salary in 2021, and a $5 million salary in 2022. However, Odorizzi also had a player option for 2023 where the 2023 salary and the buyout were both based on a point system laid out in his contract. Because Odorizzi hit all the point benchmarks, the financial obligation remaining on Odorizzi was $9,313,187, per Cots, including the buyout.

So Atlanta was taking on an additional almost $4 million in salary to swap out unproductive reliever Smith for unproductive reliever Odorizzi. Odorizzi also crossed the 100 innings threshold in 2022, which meant that they paid Odorizzi a $500,000 bonus. So that gets us to almost $4.5 million more that Atlanta took on.

And now, the Braves are sending $10 million to the Rangers to get Texas to take on Odorizzi and his $12.5 million salary in 2023. Per Cots, that is an additional $3.5 million above and beyond the $6.5 million buyout obligation that Atlanta was on the hook for when they acquired Odorizzi.

When you run the numbers, the Atlanta Braves paid almost $8 million more to get two months of Jake Odorizzi (and, I guess we shouldn’t forget, Kolby Allard) than they would have paid if they had just waived Will Smith (and no one had claimed him).

I’m struggling to understand why Atlanta would make such a significant financial commitment barely three months ago for a guy they apparently were desperate to unload. Did they get confused when they were negotiating the deal with Houston on the specifics of the 2023 player option? Did they expect Odorizzi to opt out regardless? Did they decide, once they had him, they didn’t like him nearly as much as they thought?

I don’t get it. Whatever the rationale, though, the Braves didn’t want Odorizzi, and were willing to pay $10 million to the Rangers for the Rangers to take him. Given the cost to Texas, this seems like a no-brainer for the Rangers.

However. It also made me think of David Dahl. Here’s what I wrote about David Dahl, 13 months and two days ago, in my 2021 Year in Review piece on him:

Dahl ended up signing a one year deal with the Rangers for $2.7 million. That was surprisingly low — almost as surprising, in fact, as the Rockies’ decision to non-tender him. It was a happy development for Rangers fans. That said, it also was a red flag of sorts...we are at a point where player valuation is largely commodified among MLB teams. If that was the market for Dahl, it suggests that the rest of MLB had the same concerns about Dahl’s ability to perform that the Rockies did, and thus the offers he was getting were along the lines of backup money, not starting outfielder money.

The fact that Kolby Allard and the Rangers picking up $2.5M of Odorizzi’s salary in 2023 was all that it took for the Rangers to acquire Odorizzi from Atlanta makes me think something is off here. And unlike with Dahl, the team that opted not walk away from the player that the Rangers were getting for such a a sweet deal is a team that seems to be an awfully well run organization.

So, due to what I shall dub David Dahl Syndrome, I find my reaction to this deal being, what are we missing in regards to Jake Odorizzi that has being available so cheap?

And to be clear, there are some obvious warts. He’s not a workhorse, having spent time on the injured list the past two seasons. He doesn’t work deep into games — the most batters he faced in any one game in 2022 was 25, which means he never went through a lineup three full times, and the most pitches he threw in any one start was 98. The same was true in 2021, as he only had one game where he faced more than 24 batters (he faced 26 in that outing), and threw 90 pitches in a start only five times, topping out at 103 pitches.

Odorizzi also combined for a 4.31 ERA and a 4.38 FIP in 2021-22, good for a 96 ERA+. He had a 4.11 xERA in 2022 and a 4.66 xERA in 2021. That’s obviously no great shakes, and he turns 33 in March, so its not like he’s getting younger.

But compare him to Kyle Gibson, for example. Gibson was an All Star for the Rangers in 2021 and was shipped off to Philly at the trade deadline in July of that year. As part of a trade that hasn’t worked out for anybody, though,* Gibson put up a 5.06 ERA in 43 games for the Phillies between 2021 and 2022, with an 81 ERA+, and Keith Law pegs Gibson at 2 years, $15 million this offseason.

* Spencer Howard has disappointed for Texas. Kyle Gowdy is about to be a minor league free agent. Josh Gessner has shown flashes, but is a fringe prospect at best. Meanwhile, Philly got Gibson and his bleahness, 24 innings with a 4.13 ERA from Ian Kennedy in 2021, and Hans Crouse, who the Phillies just outrighted after he was put on waivers and went unclaimed.

Granted, Gibson offers more durability and innings than Odorizzi, but Odorizzi was a pretty decent starting pitcher not all that long ago, and is younger than Gibson. Maybe Gibson ends up taking a one year, $4 million deal like Martin Perez did last year, rather than a multi-year deal or even a $7-10M one year deal, but I’m struggling to see how Gibson offers more value than Odorizzi.

Something that has been highlighted with Odorizzi that he has been especially vulnerable to being hit his third time through the order. Every pitcher, of course, has a third time through penalty, but it is especially pronounced with Odorizzi, who allowed a 708 and 648 OPS to hitters the first and second times through the order in 2022, but a 968 OPS the third time through. It was even more pronounced in 2021, at 636, 716 and 1349 OPSs the first, second and third times through.

Levi Weaver wrote about this issue for the Athletic today, and quoted Chris Young as saying that the way the Rangers’ bullpen has been set up, they can potentially deploy a pitcher like Odorizzi in a way that gets the most out of him. Young specifically mentions Brock Burke and Taylor Hearn, and they also have the benefit of being lefties. You could potentially start Odorizzi, have him go through the lineup twice, and then use Burke or Hearn for a couple of innings, which potentially forces a team that platoons to make a move earlier than they’d like to. And in that scenario, you also potentially set up a righty-righty matchup with your late inning righthanded reliever with your opponent not having a lefty pinch hitting option on the bench.

Yes, you’d probably prefer to have a guy who can go more than five innings, who you don’t have to go get at 85 pitches each time out. Even in this era of shortened starter outings and greater bullpen usage, that’s an unusual usage pattern. So Odorizzi is kind of stuck in between, not able to go deep enough to have a ton of value as a starter, but not having the stuff to dominate in short stints or even one time through the order.

But still, if you have someone who can be effective in that role, isn’t that worth more than $2.5 million and Kolby Allard? One would think so.

Steamer has Odorizzi at 1.1 fWAR in 2023 at 138 innings over 26 starts, which sounds pretty reasonable to me. For the cost, having Odorizzi as your fifth starter or a swingman and getting that sort of performance out of him would be a win, I’d think.

One other thing that occurred to me as I was writing this...I went and checked the batted ball data for Odorizzi. He’s a pretty extreme flyball pitcher...since the start of 2021, 156 pitchres have logged at least 150 innings, and only 13 of them have allowed fly balls at a higher rate than Odorizzi has.

The Rangers are likely to have Leody Taveras and Adolis Garcia as two of their three starting outfielders in 2023, and both of them are extremely good defenders. We will likely see another hitter obtained who will be in the LF/DH mode, but not necessarily an everyday DH. That would potentially allow Texas to run with the Bubba Thompson/Leody Taveras/Adolis Garcia defensive alignment in the outfield, which would give you three elite glovemen out there who can cover a ton of ground.

If you are the Rangers, and you anticipate having a really good defensive outfield, pitchers who give up a ton of fly balls are all the more attractive to you. And when Chris Young is quoted in Levi Weaver’s article about setting each pitcher up to have success, that could be something he’s referring to, as well.