4-19-23 – By Corey Shrader – @CoreyShrader on Twitter
Since his acquisition last season Johan Oviedo has been a textbook study on watching a team take a pitcher with some very enticing raw materials & trying to figure out what the hell to do with them. When he was acquired by Pittsburgh in 2022 he had just been moved to a bullpen role in St. Louis where he enjoyed some success pitching to a line of 2.70 ERA, 23.5% K, 4.4% BB in 10 relief appearances. Post trade deadline, the Pirates immediately set about converting him back to a starter role.
At AAA Ovideo cruised to a 0.79 era, 0.97 whip, 28.9% K, 6.7% BB in 11.1 IP. In September the Pirates gave him the call and in 30.2 IP he showed some real promise, but there were a few things that were evident. He has a hellacious pair of breaking balls and some serious juice to his fastball. Unfortunately, it was also evident that something wasn’t quite clicking. Why was a pitcher that could rack up whiffs with a standout slider & pump some serious heat having a hard time getting whiffs and getting hit?
I need to say here that Oviedo did not pitch poorly! What I am aiming to try to understand is how a pitcher can “level up.” Oviedo is a great example because his “stuff” is obvious to anyone that watches him pitch. He possesses some really special characteristics; elite extension (7.1 feet), below MLB average launch angle allowed, below MLB average exit velocity allowed, well above average velocity. You may be asking yourself, “what does a pitcher with all these positives even have to improve anyway?”
The answer to this question is complex and there are many ways for organizations and pitchers to go about this. Some prime examples most hear about in the offseason are pitchers going to places like Driveline or TREAD Athletics. These facilities specialize in aiding pitchers in things like reworking their arsenal with pitch modeling, adding velocity, developing a new offering, etc. Sometimes these changes occur in-house at the organization itself. One way teams can experiment is as simple as what we might be seeing with Oviedo; changing his pitch mix and usage.
So what is different in 2023?
Below is Oviedo’s usage from 2022 and so far in 2023:
The major changes with the overall mix as seen above being a large reduction in four seam fastball usage & an increase in usage of his curveball by equal measure. Drilling down further by handedness we see the most radical shift in the way Oviedo is using his fastball and the development of his curveball.
First and foremost let me say that I have been harping on the use of Oviedo’s fastball since he was acquired last season. Also in the linked piece you can see me hint at both the increased use of the slider AND lobbying for the quality of his curveball. So you can imagine my excitement to see that we are getting a lot of these things. Just take a look at his breakdown from his fantastic start against the Cardinals:
This approach allows him to deploy his best offerings more often and it also could go on to allow his fastball to play better. In this start Oviedo only threw his fastball six times to RHH! Six! Now, this might have been due to his slider being just so darn good – but It was a great departure from his previous starts. In addition to this we must note that he is commanding his curveball SIGNIFICANTLY better in 2023 so far with a zone % of 65.6, up 17% from 2022. And it is good, because the fastball command is cratering at the same time. However, since he does not have to throw it as often, it may prove to be more effective given those attractive qualities the pitch possesses as discussed previously.
It is my current thought that Oviedo may be able to make his current mix work without having to tinker with a new fastball (though it would not hurt).
Needless to say, his next start coming in the imposing confines of Coors Field, will be must watch baseball. Will this pitch mix continue? Can his curveball command be sustained? Does his four seamer play up with more limited usage? Can the four seam command tick up? I urge you all to take any start in an extreme hitters park with a grain of salt, things could go very poorly for even the best of pitchers in that environment, but there needs to be great excitement for each start for Oviedo henceforth. Without question Johan Oviedo looks like a Guy and the blueprint may just be there for him to become a Dude.
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