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Adam Ottavino’s new pitch mix makes the Rockies bullpen even better

Ottavino’s pitch chart in 2018 looks different

It’s no surprise, but it sure is pleasant to see Adam Ottavino emerge as the best reliever in a bullpen crowded with talent. Over the first two weeks of the season, Ottavino has been dominant. Let’s count the ways. Ottavino has...

  • struck out 64.5% of the batters he’s faced (20 of 31);
  • walked just one batter and hit one;
  • a pretty good 20/1 strikeout to walk ratio;
  • allowed just two hits;
  • allowed just one run;

Yes, it’s a small sample size, and no, Ottavino can’t be quite that good for an entire season, but given how effective he’s been in the past, there’s real reason to be excited about Ottavino’s return to form.

Besides the ridiculous early numbers, a couple things stand out about Ottavino’s season so far. The first has to do with how he’s doing it, and the second involves where Ottavino fits in the bullpen.

What he’s throwing

Ottavino’s definitely doing something right in 2018, and he’s probably doing something different, too.

Ottavino’s breakout season came in 2014. That year, he finally mastered his command, cut down his walks, and struck out about a batter an inning. He was tabbed to be the team’s closer in 2015, but Tommy John surgery cut his season short. Ottavino was excellent in a short stint in 2016, but things fell apart in 2017 when Ottavino lost his command. One thing that remained consistent throughout those up and down periods is that he’s relied on a four-seam fastball to complement his heavy slider usage. His two-seam, sinking fastball played third fiddle.

That’s changed so far in 2018. In 12 appearances and 923 innings pitched, Ottavino has all but abandoned his four-seam fastball and has made his two-seamer his most used secondary pitch. In fact, he’s thrown his cut-fastball about as much as his four-seam fastball so far in 2018.

It’s possible that what’s identified as a sinker (two-seam fastball) here is actually one of Adam’s slider variations. But BrooksBaseball is the best at classifying and manually checking their pitches. It may be more complicated than “he’s throwing the sinking fastball a lot more now and not so much the four-seamer,” but it’s pretty clear that something’s different. Whatever he’s doing new, let’s hope he keeps doing it and it keeps working.

When he’s pitching

The Rockies, with all their depth, are expected to have a strong bullpen in 2018. That makes Ottavino’s early results all the more exciting because it means he could have a little bit of a flexible role. So far in 2018, Ottavino has pitched in the sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, and tenth innings. If Wade Davis remains healthy and installed in the closer role, Ottavino could be someone the Rockies call upon at any point in later innings, or even as a fill in closer when Davis is unavailable.

I spoke with Mike Dunn about bullpen roles and reliever expectations at Coors Field last week. He told me that relievers are adaptable and are ready to adjust their roles on a day-to-tday basis based on context. “It’s a big thing to know where everyone’s at health-wise,” Dunn said, as well as “lineups, matchups,” and who’s pitched three days in a row. It’s reasonable to expect relievers to want to have an idea of when they’ll be used so they know when to start preparing to enter a game, but that doesn’t mean they want rigidity (Huston Street excepted). With Ottavino pitching the way he is, he should be the first in line to close tight games when Davis is unavailable.

★ ★ ★

The re-emergence of dominant Adam Ottavino is one of the most welcome aspects of the early 2018 season. That it may be a product of an evolving repertoire is ultimately just an interesting tidbit. But as a result, he strengthens and adds flexibility to an already deep component of the team.