I’m a west coaster now, chillin’ by the beach with my freshly-made guacamole, organic heirloom tomatoes, and fifteen different types of lettuce. But it wasn’t always this way. I was born in Brooklyn, and while I was raised out on Long Island, I spent a great deal of my childhood in the Flatbush and Sheepshead Bay neighborhoods of Brooklyn. I’ve always felt a strong connection with the most populous of New York City’s five boroughs. Well, that is until I moved to San Francisco and renounced by Brooklyn Dodgers heritage to become a fan of the Giants.
So while I won’t root for the successors to the Brooklyn Dodgers, I do root for players who grew up in Brooklyn. Players who had to travel the city by subway and bus to get to the decent baseball fields. Players who had to fight for attention from scouts and big-league college baseball programs. City guys like former Mets closer John Franco and Giants shortstop Rich Aurilia.
And guys like Adam Ottavino.
Not only is Ottavino from Brooklyn, he’s also the perfect Impact Index player. Unknown. Unheralded. Making a difference on his team.
Ottavino grew up in Brooklyn and was a star starting pitcher for his high school baseball team. From there, it was on to Northeastern University in Boston where he posted a 2.98 ERA with 120 strikeouts in 98.2 innings his senior year.
The Cardinals selected Ottavino thirtieth overall in the June 2006 amateur draft. Starting in the fall of 2006, Ottavino worked his way up — slowly — from Low-A, to High-A, to Double-A, to Triple-A. And then he stalled. In 2009, Ottavino started 27 games for the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds, going 7-12 with a 4.75 ERA. His walk rate, which was not good to begin with, shot up to 5.1 walks per nine.
Ottavino debuted in the majors in late May, 2010, starting three games for the Cardinals and working mop-up duty in a fourth. In 22.1 innings, he gave up 37 hits, including 5 home runs, and nine walks. His ERA was 8.46. Back to Triple-A, where he stayed for the remainder of 2010 and all of 2011. At the end of spring training this year, the Cardinals put Ottavino on waivers.
The thirtieth overall pick. Five full seasons in the Cardinals system, led by then-pitching coach and guru Dave Duncan. And yet, Ottavino couldn’t make it with the Cardinals. So who best to take Ottavino’s talent and make it work?
The Rockies, of course.
Yes, the Colorado Rockies. The four-man, pitch-count-limited, rely-on-the-bullpen Rockies. The play-in-a-pinball-machine-for-a-ballpark Rockies. Makes perfect sense.
For Ottavino, it has.
The Cardinals had begun the process of converting Ottavino to a relief pitcher and that process continued once Ottavino joined the Rockies’ Triple-A team in Colorado Springs. With the Rockies’ pitching in tatters early in the season, Ottavino got the call to the majors in early May. He’s been with the Rockies ever since.
In 25 innings to date, Ottavino’s posted a 11.16 K/9 and a 3.60 BB/9 for a 3.10 K/BB. Not stellar, but in the top 30 for National League relievers with 25+ innings pitched this season. His buggaboo is home runs. He’s given up five, only two of which were at Coors Field. Command and control remain big concerns.
But last week, Ottavino came up big for the Rockies. Well, in truth, he came up big and not so big, but we like to emphasize the big so we’ll focus on that.
The Rockies played the Washington Nationals in a four-game series last week at Coors Field. The Nationals had a two-games-to-one lead heading in to the final tilt on Thursday afternoon. To make an exceedlingly long game story short, the teams were tied at 10 runs a piece heading into extra innings after Rockies closer Rafael Betancourt gave up a game-tying home run to Bryce Harper in the top of the ninth.
On came Ottavino to pitch the tenth. After a leadoff double by Ian Desmond, Ottavino retired the next three Nationals in order, on two strikeouts and a ground out. When the Rockies failed to score in the bottom of the inning, Ottavino was back at it for the eleventh. He mowed down the heart of the Nationals lineup in order, striking out Danny Espinosa, Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman. The Rockies won it on the bottom of the eleventh and Ottavino had his second victory of the season.
Ottavino’s Win Probability Added for Thursday’s outing was .297 — the highest for any Rockies reliever so far this season. And the 35th highest WPA by a reliever in the majors this year.
Adam Ottavino: our Impact Index Player of the Week.