Once the MLB lockout was over and teams could finally report to spring training, front offices could also start signing free agents again. The Mets found some experience for their bullpen by signing Adam Ottavino to a one-year, $4 million deal in the middle of March.
Following a slow start, he’s been nothing short of excellent coming out of manager Buck Showalter’s bullpen.
Through Ottavino’s first 17.2 innings, he posted a 30.5% strikeout rate and 9.8% walk rate, but it was accompanied by a 4.08 ERA and 1.36 WHIP. However, it’s been a totally different story since June 1st. Through his last 42.1 innings, he’s maintained his strikeout rate (29.5%) while improving his walk rate (4.5%), ERA (1.28), and WHIP (0.85).
His 2.10 ERA, 29.8% strikeout rate, and 0.9 fWAR for the year are his best marks since 2019 with the Yankees. What’s been the key to this resurgence for the right-handed reliever? I’m glad you asked.
Ottavino has drastically improved his control
Coming in and striking opposing hitters out hasn’t been much of a problem for Ottavino throughout his career. Entering 2022, the hurler had posted a career 27.1% strikeout rate. What has been more of a problem for the veteran, though, was his control. It’s actually been a more recent issue.
From 2013-16, his walk rate finished above 7.0% just once. That happened in 2013 when it was 9.3%. But from 2017-21, Ottavino failed to post a walk rate lower than 10.6% in any season. In 2021 with the Red Sox, the number settled in at 12.7%.
Through 60 innings with the Mets, Ottavino’s walk rate is 6.3%. If the season were to end today, that’d be his lowest walk rate in a single season since 2015 (5.7%).
When comparing this year’s plate-discipline numbers to previous seasons, there are a few likely causes for this. Ottavino’s chase rate is currently at 31.0%, which hasn’t been that high since 2015. While only 41.4% of his pitches have landed in the strike zone, opposing hitters are making less contact this year (71.7%) than in the past two seasons (77.2% in ’20, 73.6% in ’21).
And if contact is made, the quality of it has been in favor of Ottavino. He’s produced a 22.4% soft-hit rate and a 23.8% hard-hit rate so far in 2022. With a 58.8% first-pitch strike rate, which is his highest since 2018, opposing hitters are likely feeling more vulnerable early in the count than they have in the past. It also helps that his slider has returned to its typical effectiveness.
His slider is as good as ever
After Ottavino’s slider posted a value of -0.19 and a 123 wRC+ with Boston in 2021, those numbers have improved dramatically to 2.03 and 54, respectively, for the Mets. The improved control we just talked about pertains specifically to this offering, too.
It’s produced a 35.8% strikeout rate and a 5.0% walk rate this year. That’s a stark contrast to the 19.5% strikeout rate and 10.9% walk rate he posted in 2021. The last time his slider was this good was in 2016 as a member of the Rockies’ bullpen. Ottavino produced a 46.5% strikeout rate, 4.7% walk rate, and a 0 wRC+ with his slider that year.
This year’s version of Aaron Loup
I can’t help but think of Aaron Loup whenever Ottavino’s performance is discussed. Ahead of the 2021 season, the Mets signed Loup to a one-year, $3 million deal. I’d say it mostly went under the radar, but it was met with a bit of frustration because New York had whiffed on other top relievers in the free-agent market.
All Loup did during his time in Queens was post a 0.95 ERA and a 0.94 WHIP, leading to a 1.6 fWAR in 53.1 innings.
This is not to say that Ottavino will turn this performance into a more lucrative deal elsewhere in the offseason, although that’s obviously possible. However, we’ve seen this type of thing happen a lot over the years. Outside of a small handful of hurlers, effectiveness out of the bullpen is quite volatile.
Not many were expecting Ottavino to become such a crucial part of Showalter’s bullpen. But here we are, with the Mets headed to October and the right-hander playing a major role in bridging the gap between starting pitchers and closer Edwin Diaz.
More on ESNY:
• Mets-Brewers series in review: New York’s bid for sweep falls short
• Is Pete Alonso the centerpiece of Mets’ offense?
• Keyshawn Johnson: Jets ‘better not screw it up’ with Garret Wilson
• Kenny Golladay, Giants are likely stuck together for now
• MLB postseason 2022: Ranking Mets’ potential opening-round matchups