Age: November 22, 1985 (32)
Traditional Stats: 6-4, 2.43 ERA, 75 G, 6 SV, 77.2 IP, 0.991 WHIP, 4.2 BB/9, 13.0 K/9
Advanced Stats: 2.6 bWAR, 2.0 fWAR, 193 ERA+, 2.74 FIP
When Ottavino was drafted as the 30th overall pick in the 2006 draft, he was a promising pitcher with a mid 90s fastball. After his first professional season, people were more bullish on him progressing to be an effective starter. That eagerness first subsided with him needing to consistently tinker with his delivery. As problematic as that was, the real issue was his shoulder. Despite the torn labrum, Ottavino would opt for rest and rehab over surgery.
Despite the injury, Ottavino would eventually make it to the majors with the Cardinals making five appearances in 2010. That was the good news. The bad news was his Cardinals tenure lasted all of five games. He’d spend the entire 2011 season in the minors before getting released on the eve of the 2012 season.
The Rockies claimed him, and Ottavino grew in his role in the bullpen. In 2015, he would be tabbed as the Rockies closer, and then disaster struck. It was discovered he had a torn UCL. Unlike the labrum tear, he would have to have this repaired surgically. The early returns were great with him pitching to a 2.67 ERA in 2016, but he would then crater back to earth with a heavier 2017 workload.
At 31, Ottavino was coming off a career-worst season with a 5.06 ERA, 1.631 WHIP, 5.16 FIP, and a 6.6 BB/9, his career was at a crossroads. Fortunately, for Ottavino, he was already someone who was interested in technology and analytics. More than that, he was willing to put the work in that was necessary to salvage his career.
In May, Travis Sawchik of Fangraphs spoke with Ottavino about the extensive efforts he undertook this offseason. Ottavino purchased a $16,000 Edgertronic SC2 high-speed camera to capture his spin rate. He traveled to Seattle to work at Driveline to figure out how to get batters to not just swing at more of his pitches, but to also induce weak contract. During his time there, he not only developed a two-seamer, but he would also fix his mechanics.
Ottavino’s father-in-law would then permit him to use vacant commercial property in New York City to work during the offseason. All offseason long, he worked on his pitches and mechanics. The end result was a career year.
In 2018, Ottavino would set career bests in wins, ERA, appearances, strikeouts, K/9, and WAR. Coming off a career-best year, he will be a free agent at a time when teams have been increasingly using their bullpen, and as a result, have been heavily investing in their bullpen on the free agent market.
In 2017, Anthony Swarzak was in a very similar circumstance than the one Ottavino presently finds himself. At 31, he was coming off a career-best year. That year could be explained by a change in the way he pitches. The end result was him receiving a two-year, $14 million contract with the Mets. Seeing how the prices of free agent relievers have risen over the past few years, it is likely Ottavino receives a two or three-year deal this offseason in the neighborhood of $7-$10 million annually.
On the surface, Ottavino is exactly what the Mets need. He is a dominant late-inning reliever, who can be a real difference maker in the Mets bullpen. His season is all the more encouraging when you consider how he did it in Colorado. Certainly, his openness and ability to utilize every avenue to improve is an indication this is more than just a one-year phenomenon. Throw in the fact he has already been a throwing partner with Steven Matz in previous offseasons, and you have a player who can seamlessly fit into this Mets team.
That all said, this was what Swarzak was supposed to be last year. Instead, Swarzak would have an injury-plagued season. In fact, Swarzak’s 2018 season is partially why the Mets need to look for bullpen help this offseason. Considering how Swarzak’s season went, the Mets need to assess if they want to risk a repeat of that happening with Ottavino.
Ultimately, if this offseason shakes out like last, and Ottavino is what’s left, the Mets would do well to add him to the roster. However, given the existing shoulder issues and his throwing more innings than he has ever had in his career, Ottavino should not be the Mets first choice.