Pittsburgh Pirates: Trying to Breakdown What is Plaguing Luis Ortiz

Let's attempt to delve into the struggles of Pirate starting pitcher Luis Ortiz
Jun 23, 2023; Miami, Florida, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Luis Ortiz (48) throws a
Jun 23, 2023; Miami, Florida, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Luis Ortiz (48) throws a / Rich Storry-USA TODAY Sports
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Luis Ortiz has failed to duplicate the success he had with the Pittsburgh Pirates last September. What is plaguing the young righty?

Last September, Luis Ortiz was promoted to the majors capping off a season that saw a meteoric rise for the young righty. Ortiz turned heads with the Pittsburgh Pirates in September and appeared to be well on his way to becoming a mainstay in the team's starting rotation.

Ortiz pitched 16 innings in four starts with the Pirates last September. Ortiz posted a 4.50 ERA, 3.67 FIP, 14.5% walk rate, and a 24.6% strikeout rate in these starts. However, almost all of the damage done against Ortiz came in his final start of the season. Ortiz recorded just two outs while allowing 6 runs on three walks and a home run in that start. In his other three starts, Ortiz struck out 17 batters, walked just seven, and allowed 2 runs with zero home runs allowed in 15.1 innings pitched.

After starting the season at Triple-A Indianapolis, Ortiz joined the Pirate starting rotation in May. He has pitched in 10 games this season with nine being starts, posting a 4.11 ERA and a 5.66 FIP in 50.1 innings pitched. Ortiz has allowed eight home runs (1.43 HR/9), walked 11.0% of batters faced, and has struck out just 13.7% of opposing batters.

What has gone wrong for Ortiz?

Well, there are multiple things plaguing Ortiz. First and foremost, his velocity is down. In his cup of coffee with the Bucs last September Ortiz's fastball averaged 98.4 MPH and his slider averaged 87.7 MPH. This season, those two pitches have averaged 96.1 and 85.5 MPH. Additionally, his sinker has gone from averaging 98.4 MPH to 95.9.

The question then becomes why is his velocity down? Typically you think injury when this is the case. However, if it were an injury issue with Ortiz, odds are, he would have been placed on the injured list by now. Perhaps it's due to Ortiz looking to work deeper into games and having less of a reliever mentality as a result. Regardless of the cause, it's been an issue for Ortiz this season.

The drop in velocity could be a factor here as well, but another issue plaguing Ortiz is allowing too much hard contact. Opposing batters have an average exit velocity of 91.7 MPH, an 11.8% barrel rate, and a hard-hit rate of 47.1% against Ortiz.

All three of these are well above league average. League average exit velocity is 88.4 MPH, barrel rate is 6.8%, and hard-hit rate is 36.1%. It goes without saying that allowing hard, quality contact is not a recipe for success for any pitcher, and Ortiz has been allowing rockets this season.

If a pitcher is going to allow a lot of hard contact then they need to miss bats. Well, missing bats is something that Ortiz has not done much of this season. To be honest, this could be the single biggest issue for Ortiz thus far this season.

Ortiz's 13.7% strikeout rate is in the bottom 3% of baseball. In three of his 10 outings he has struck out just one batter, and in his most recent start he did not strikeout a single batter in 4.2 innings pitched. His whiff rate is in the bottom 20% of baseball. Ortiz needs to start missing more bats.

Right now Ortiz is a key cog for the Pirates. With their starting pitching injuries and ineffectiveness, he is anchored into the rotation for the rest of the season. If he is going to be the long-term building block he appeared to be blossoming into last September, then he needs to turn around the struggles he has encountered this season.

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