After signing a three-year, $27 million deal with the Yankees last offseason, Adam Ottavino became a crucial piece of the team’s stacked bullpen. In fact, over the course of the 2019 season, Ottavino was one of the best relief arms for the Yanks, finishing the year with a miniscule 1.90 ERA, struck out 11.94 batters per nine innings and his hard hit rate of 27.6 percent was among the best in baseball.
But the tail end of 2019 wasn’t as kind to Ottavino. He posted his an xFIP of 4.52 in August, his highest since the opening month of the season, and his 4.14 FIP in September was also his highest since the first month of the season. It was also the first time his ERA finished north of three. Ottavino stumbled into the postseason and struggled in the ALCS, but as a whole, it was a productive first year in pinstripes that earned him 1.3 WAR. Factoring out the closers that collected double-digit saves, that put Ottavino tied as the eighth-most valuable middle reliever in baseball.
So, will the Yankees see late season Ottavino in 2020 or more of what we saw in May through July? Again, Ottavino’s overall numbers were very strong. His .293 xSLG was in the top two percent in the league, and while his strikeout rate dropped five percent, it was still a solid 31.1, good to place him in the 88th percentile. But given his 1.90 ERA and and 4.32 xFIP for the season, did Ottavino overachieve?
Ottavino’s FIP was certainly negatively affected by his walk rate, which has been a concern for the righty since his days with the Rockies. Ottavino’s walk rate in 2017 was a league-worst 16 percent, and he improved upon that mark in 2018, but last season, it rose back up to 14.1 percent, again among the highest in baseball. Ottavino made up for his free passes for most of the season by posting a left on base percentage of 87.8, the highest of his career, but a few timely hits by opposing batters or another walk at the wrong time, and Ottavino’s season could have looked much different.
Of course, Ottavino’s high left on base rate could also suggest that he knew when to bare down and get high leverage outs. He was certainly able to do that, but cracks began to show down the stretch. Ottavino could pitch through 2020 like he did for most of 2019, or his walks could continue to catch up to him.
The projections seem to think that Ottavino’s ERA in 2019 will be difficult to replicate. ZiPS has Ottavino taking a step back in 2020, projecting a 0.9 WAR with an ERA of 3.49. Steamer expects a leveling off as well, projecting an ERA of 4.36 and a FIP of 4.43 compared to an xFIP of 4.44. The biggest adjustment for Ottavino will have to be improved control, or else it will be tough to imagine that he will see another sub-2.00 ERA again this season.