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Why has Adam Ottavino struggled for the Yankees of late?

Ottavino has been mainly dominant this season, but his last few outings have been rocky.

MLB: Colorado Rockies at New York Yankees Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

Adam Ottavino has been one of the Yankees’ most valuable relievers this season, and one of the best free agent signings from this past offseason. But the righty has ran into a bit of trouble of late, having allowed a run in each of his past four outings, after surrendering just one in his last 11 before this recent stretch. Ottavino’s trouble reached a climax on Wednesday night against the Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani-less Angels, allowing another run on three hits while recording just one out and committing a throwing error that probably made 50 Cent feel just a little bit better about his own pitching skills.

During one of Ottavino’s recent outings, back on September 8 against Boston, he allowed his first home run since June 13. Since then, he has walked three batters over the past 2.1 innings. Clearly, Ottavino is in a bit of a funk, which is to be expected throughout a long season, but what’s behind this recent speed bump? Let’s try and find out.

As mentioned earlier, Ottavino’s walks have been a bit of an issue of late, as his 6.35 BB/9 in September represents. That mark is the highest since his first month of the season, and is coming off an August where his BB/9 was his lowest monthly mark of the year to date. The homer he surrendered to Mookie Betts earlier this month coupled with those walks has also raised his September FIP total to 5.16, by far his highest mark of the season.

So far in September, Ottavino has been surrendering hard contact at a rate of 46.2 percent and a pull percentage of the same amount, both by far his highest marks of 2019 so far. While most of that hard contact has been hit on the ground (his September ground ball rate of 61.5 is double last month’s mark), the increase in walks and hard grounders have caused for more traffic on the bases and therefore more runs. This is out of character for Ottavino, who has otherwise been automatic in terms of run prevention this year, even when inheriting runners.

Has Ottavino changed anything about his approach on the mound to bring about this recent rough patch? Well, his slider usage is up to its highest mark of the year, but the spin rate on that nasty pitch has been trending in the wrong direction for a few months now:

Data courtesy of Statcast

The good news for Ottavino is that he saw a dip in spin rate last year before logging his highest mark through the last month of the year. Sometimes, it just takes a trip back to the lab, and a look through an Edgertronic camera to get back to the optimal pitch grip. Pitchers go through highs and lows all the time, just look at Aroldis Chapman back in July. History shows Ottavino will figure this out, and hopefully it happens before October hits.