Luis Ortiz had a super impressive September in 2022. In his first three outings, Ortiz pitched 15.1 innings, allowing just two earned runs, no home runs, and struck out 17 batters. While he also walked seven, you couldn’t have asked for a better start to a big league career. While he tanked the last and final outing, only making two outs and allowing six earned runs, Ortiz had the inside track for a future rotation spot. I even went so far as to say he could have Rookie of the Year potential because of his elite ability to induce swings and misses and weak contact.
Ortiz pitched 86.2 innings in 2023 and struggled to the tune of a 4.78 ERA, 5.57 FIP, and 1.70 WHIP. The right-hander cut his walk rate down to 12%, however, his strikeout rate fell to a mere 14.8%. But even more worrisome was his opponent's exit velocity going from 84.9 MPH in 2022 to 92.3 MPH, and his HR/9 rate spiking to 1.35. Ortiz had some solid games this year, going five or more innings while allowing three or fewer earned runs nine times, but when he was off, he was way off.
Ortiz came up hitting triple-digits on the gun, but what happened to his velocity? How did he go from averaging 98.4 MPH to 96.2 MPH? In all honesty, Ortiz likely came up, saw this as a good opportunity to show off his potential, and decided to grip it and rip it. Ortiz didn’t go very many innings in his brief 2022 sample size, averaging four innings a start, but it worked for him.
Ortiz may simply be someone whose fastball is significantly better at 97-99 and topping out at 101 than 95-97 MPH and topping out at 98. The real question is how sustainable is that kind of heat over the course of 6+ innings? I get why Ortiz may have been asked to go less than 100% on every fastball. But maybe we should just let Ortiz fling fastballs at high velocity. Stop making the pitch play down because you want him to go 6-7 innings instead of five. Five great innings will give the Pirates a better chance to win than 6-7 average to below-average innings.
Another thing Ortiz needs to do is stop leaving the ball down the middle with his fastball. Sounds like basic baseball knowledge, but this is something Ortiz struggled with during 2023. He worked down the middle and occasionally up and in on right-handed batters/up-away vs left-handed batters. Compare that to 2022, when Ortiz worked up and in on RHB/up-away vs LHB more often, as well as working on the edges more frequently.
Just look at the difference in fastball distribution in 2023 vs 2022, as I did in the tweet below. Working down the middle that often is typically not a recipe for success:
Giving up on Ortiz when we know what his ceiling is would not be a wise move. As I pointed out, some of his struggles may simply be a tweak in location and velocity. If Ortiz is holding back from throwing 97+ on the regular so he can try and go into a game longer but sacrificing overall stuff to do it, it’s time for him just to go all out. Sure, Ortiz may not be Greg Maddux 2.0, but he’s more than good enough to locate on the edges more frequently as he did in 2022.