By: Chris Larson
Adam Ottavino happens to be one of the more intriguing names in this year's free agent relief pitching class and there's a good reason for that. Not only is it due to how well he performed down the stretch last season, but also due to the fact that teams always covet bullpen help this time of year and look for ways to lengthen out their bullpens.
Of course, any team that is looking to add on additional bullpen depth, will survey both the trade and free agent markets before making a decision about a particular reliever or two who might suit their club the best, but Adam Ottavino is one that certainly makes a name for himself and a reliever who could do very well over the coming weeks.
Ottavino, who will turn 33 in a mere 8 days, is coming off a season in, which he posted a 2.43 ERA over 77.2 IP for the Colorado Rockies, with a 0.99 WHIP and a 2.74 FIP (Fielding Independent Percentage). Looking over last season for Adam Ottavino, it was one in which he demonstrated exceptional ability in his role and even recorded 6 saves. Granted, he was 6-for-11 in save opportunities, but regardless, he garnered experience in a backend role and that will provide tremendous value for any team looking to sign him this winter.
It's more likely than not that any team interested in Adam Ottavino, will view him as more of a 7th or 8th inning guy compared to a closer, but that is an evaluation from the outside. Some teams might believe that his best role would be as a closer even though, he finished last season with a 54.5%, based on the numbers and stats discussed below.
In addition, Ottavino's splits against both left and right-handed hitters were equally impressive. Last season, Ottavino held lefties to a .142 batting average along with a .231 on-base percentage, with 67 strikeouts. Against righties, Ottavino put up a .179 batting average along with a .241 slugging percentage, with 45 strikeouts. From those numbers alone, it's easy to see how Adam Ottavino can be used against both lefties and righties, something that managers in the game today covet and look for in the most critical matchups including during both the regular season as well as the post season.
Furthermore, Adam Ottavino put up the 6th lowest hard contact percentage rate (25.3%), among qualified relievers last season. Why is that important, you might wonder? Well, it helps to indicate the amount of power that opposing team's hitters are putting on the ball that is being pitched to them. In this case, the lower the number, the better the contact rate is thus allowing the pitcher's team to translate those batted balls into outs.
If you're still not sold on Adam Ottavino potentially being the best reliever on the free agent market, then take a look at his strikeout percentage for last season. Out of the 77 and 2/3 innings of work that he put up for the Colorado Rockies, Ottavino recorded a 36.3 strikeout percentage, the 8th highest value of any qualified reliever. That translated into a strikeouts-per-9 rate of 12.98, the 11th highest rate among qualified relievers, during the 2018 regular season.
Beyond all of that, Adam Ottavino held up extremely well at Coors Field as indicated by his home and away splits too. For more, take a look at the chart below:
As a pitcher in Coors Field, the entire game plan and the way you prepare to pitch is completely different from any other ballpark. You have to have the stamina to pitch at the high altitude that Denver sits at (5,280 feet for those that don't know), the durability to potentially appear in 81 home games throughout the season, and the mental capacity to be able to erase any awful outings that you might have. In fact, an argument can be made that pitching in Coors Field is extremely challenging, challenging to the point where, if you put up numbers like Ottavino did last season, it not only shows what a tough athlete you are, but how effective you are as a pitcher. Just look at that Opponent Batting Average Against at home for proof. Oof!
Finally, one other thing to consider about Adam Ottavino and his potential to be an extremely valuable reliever for the next team that signs him is this: Ottavino ended last season, tied with Noah Syndergaard, Brad Hand, and Will Harris in exit velocity (84.9 average exit velocity). If you were to rank pitchers, both starters and relievers, in that category that would put Ottavino 7th on the list overall, tied with those other three aforementioned individuals. Again, putting up an exit velocity like that is extremely impressive, let alone doing it during half of your appearances in Coors Field!
Of course, as is the case with any player, there is some risk involved with signing a pitcher like Adam Ottavino. Ottavino is getting older (he will turn 33 in 8 days as mentioned before) and he has a history of injuries. In May 2015, Ottavino had Tommy John surgery and missed nearly half of the 206 season recovering from it, before later being, put on the DL in May of 2017 with right shoulder inflammation. Beyond that, Ottavino also missed a little more than two weeks last season with a left oblique strain. So, the takeaway here: buyer beware, but as the case with any player or pitcher, team's will exercise the right amount of caution and figure out a deal accordingly.
In the end, this year's free agent relief pitching market is full of big names like Craig Kimbrel, Andrew Miller, and Zach Britton, but a case can certainly be made that Adam Ottavino is more effective and will be more sustainable over the long run, compared to those three other names. Of course, it remains to be seen exactly how teams will value Ottavino on the open market, but he did himself a tremendous favor by having a very effective 2018 campaign and doing it while pitching half of his innings at Coors Field. Easily, the toughest ballpark to pitch in, in all of baseball.
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