Brother, Can You Spare A Changeup?

Ogando
The Rangers are currently working on finding a fifth starter now. They have slots 1-4 filled out nicely, especially given the recent contract signed by Martin Perez. Who’s the man for that fifth spot? Nick Tepesch could, and probably should, factor into the mix heavily, but the prevailing sense is that it’s Alexi Ogando’s job to lose at this point. Is it really?
The thing to remember about Ogando is that he was once an outfielder who got turned into a pitcher. He joins the likes of Sean Doolittle, Carlos Marmol, Jason Motte, Kenley Jansen, and even our beloved Joe Nathan, in this odd fraternity. The trend with all of these guys is to prepare them for life in the bullpen, just as we’ve seen with Ogando, which also leads to a small, but hopefully effective, arsenal of pitches. This lack of variety is where the problems start with Ogando as a starter.

His primary pitch is a four-seam fastball, with an average velocity of 93-97 mph. Ogando pitching to that higher end of the given range is what makes him such a weapon, whether starting or coming out of the pen. The higher end of that range also allows him to pitch to contact, with a fairly even distribution of ground balls to fly balls (.98 ground ball/fly ball ratio in 2013); however, if his other pitch isn’t working as a compliment to the fastball, patient hitters will eventually sit on this pitch and knock him around. Another concern with him relying on a high velocity fastball this consistently is the wear and tear on his arm and the DL stints we’ve seen in his two different attempts at starting (2011 and 2013). He’s only logged 273.1 innings as a starter over those two seasons, with only 104.1 last season; endurance is certainly a question if he is intended to continue being a starter.

His other pitch is a slider, one that can be a force to be reckoned with when he has it during a game. His average velocity on the pitch is anywhere from 80 mph to 84 mph, mostly trending towards the lower end of that scale with an average of 82 mph over the last 4 seasons. The movement he’s able to put on the slider is the most impressive component of this particular pitch and renders it a deadly weapon to use when he is ahead of hitters in counts. One small sign of trouble for Ogando was when his slider’s velocity dipped down towards the high 70’s in a few games. The velocity change itself wasn’t necessarily the culprit, but it did change the way the pitch moved within the strike zone. When he returned, he was back around his average of 82 mph and the slider looked like it had regained some very much needed life, which in turn helped reestablish its devastating power against hitters.

In all fairness to Alexi, it probably hasn’t helped that he was stretched to start in 2011, put back into the bullpen in 2012, and then stretched out again in 2013, where he bounced back and forth from the rotation and the pen. One way he could have helped himself sooner was to use his changeup more often as a part of his repertoire. Incidentally, 2013 saw the highest usage of the change in his 4 year MLB career (14.9% usage). His change averages out in the mid-80s and, with that kind of velocity, it could be just as effective as the slider. One of the best starts of his career was on September 22 of this year, against the Royals. He used all three pitches effectively and went 7 strong shutout innings. His control and velocity where keys to using all three pitches in the way he did and, despite being handed a no decision, he showed he has the stuff to start.

Regarding his repertoire, it is entirely possible for him to accomplish good things in the rotation with three strong pitches. The most direct comparison is Chicago’s Chris Sale, who is also of a very tall, lanky build. They use the same pitches and their average velocities on each are within mere clicks of each other. The primary difference is Sale has allowed his changeup to progress each season via increased development and usage. Alexi’s challenge is to keep working that changeup. He needs that third pitch, or else his potential effectiveness over multiple innings diminishes greatly. Besides that, he has to stay healthy over a prolonged season, and using that third pitch will help as well. He’s got the stuff to be a starter, especially that low in the rotation, but must find a way to maintain his health over 30 or so starts.

Sarah Powers is a Staff Writer for ShutDowninning.com. She can be reached at sarah.powers@shutdowninning.com or on Twitter @Power_Play86.
Sarah Powers

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