Adam Ottavino was a crucial bullpen piece for the Yankees in 2019, and with two more seasons to go on his contract, he will continue to see high leverage innings, especially against right-handed hitters.
However, he had a very inflated BB% and he wasn’t his dominant self in the postseason, when he was needed the most, and that’s why he didn’t get an A grade.
2019 Statistics: 66.1 innings, 1.31 ERA, 88 strikeouts, 1.48 WHIP, 11.94 K/9, 5.43 BB/9, 3.44 FIP, 1.3 WAR
2020 Contract Status: Signed through 2021 (AAV $9M)
While he has never been known as a control artist, he took a significant step back in that department this year. After finishing 2018 with a manageable 4.17 BB/9, he ended 2019 with a disappointing 5.43. His overall numbers were otherwise impressive: a 1.90 ERA (3.44 FIP), 11.94 K/9, 0.68 HR/9, and 1.3 fWAR in 66.1 innings pitched.
Ottavino was filthy against right-handed batters: he held them to a .177 average, with a .292 OBP and a .266 slugging percentage, with a .255 wOBA. He had a 2.55 FIP against them. Lefties, however, gave him a lot more trouble. While they batted .241, they had a very high .361 OBP, which is largely a product of his 6.33 BB/9 against them. Left-handed batters also accrued a 5.32 FIP against the reliever.
The good thing is that, according to his Statcast profile, Ottavino was flat-out dominant. Here, we can see how he fared in categories such as hard-hit rate, K%, fastball spin, exit velocity, xwOBA, xBA, and xSLG:
He was among the league leaders in:
Hard-hit rate: 27.6 (98th percentile)
K%: 31.1 (88th percentile)
Average exit velocity: 85.1 mph (97th percentile)
xwOBA: .271 (89th percentile)
xBA: .184 (97th percentile)
xSLG: .293 (98th percentile)
What this data shows is that despite having occasional issues with command and control, Adam Ottavino is a very hard pitcher to square up and he misses bats with the best of them. All of that bodes well for future performance.
A postseason to forget
Sadly, many fans will remember Ottavino’s first year with the New York Yankees as a disappointment, even though he put up excellent numbers in the regular season. The reason behind that is his poor postseason play.
In the Division Series against the Minnesota Twins, he was used by manager Aaron Boone as a righty specialist, more specifically, to neutralize feared slugger Nelson Cruz. He didn’t succeed but wasn’t shelled by any means, with a couple of walks and no runs allowed in an inning of work.
More command issues and a couple of bad breaks did him in against the Astros. He conceded four runs (three earned) in 2.1 frames, with six hits allowed, one base on balls, and three punch outs.
His ineffectiveness coupled with the starters’ inability to go deep into games caused the rest of the arms in the bullpen to work more than they should have. That became evident as the series progressed and the Astros’ hitters had more looks against them.
It would be, however, unfair to treat Ottavino’s season as a failure. He showed that he can be flat-out filthy when he’s on, even with iffy control. Since he had a 4.17 BB/9 in 2018, there is hope that he can straighten this out over the offseason.