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BSN Exclusive: Adam Ottavino on how he can become more dominant

Drew Creasman Avatar
November 4, 2018

DENVER – The official beginning of the offseason is on the horizon and with the Colorado Rockies deciding not to hand out any qualifying offers, club stalwarts DJ LeMahieu and Adam Ottavino are set to become unrestricted free agents.

Both are expected to be at or near the top of the food chain at their position, meaning that either or both could end up actually setting the market for relievers (especially those without closer history) or second base.

Both come with some big question marks, but Ottavino, in particular, could see a large disparity in how other clubs view his potential value.

The market historically has shown a big difference between “closer money” and even what elite set-up men tend to garner, and it remains to be seen if Otto can successfully make the transition from the latter to the former.

While he was inarguably dominant in 2018, posting some of the best peripherals among relief pitchers in all of baseball, the season also contained a few warning signs that will need to be improved regardless of where he ends up; Some wildness, a total lack of control over the base paths, and two infamous postseason pitches

How confident GMs and Ottavino himself are that he can take steps forward in each of these areas could determine the type of deal he is offered and whether or not Colorado can be in the running to retain his services.

He took the time to discuss these issues with BSN Denver just after the conclusion of the season.

The ridiculous amount of tilt on Ottavino’s slider means that wild pitches and passed balls are always going to be a bit of an issue. He has talked over the years about a myriad of ways to work on this but the issue overall begins to meld into the other two.

He isn’t alone as a reliever with wicked stuff who plants it too hard in the dirt sometimes, but the issue can be compounded by his difficulties keeping runners in place and at times by the decision on which pitch to throw.

He was worthy of all the love (and gifs) he got after inducing more ugly swings than anyone in the National League last season, but his two most famous pitches were highly scrutinized offerings in the Wild Card game against Javier Baez and in the first game of the NLDS against Mike Moustakas.

The first was a decent but imperfect bit of execution that gets more criticism for the fact that it was a breaking pitch to a player who feasts on those. But the second was both a bad decision and poor execution on a high fastball that resulted in a walk-off for the Milwaukee Brewers.

He admits to “overthinking” and it appeared especially true against Moustakas when a slider would likely have ended the at-bat at the inning… unless it skipped away from the catcher, allowing the winning run to score on a passed ball instead of a single. And, of course, the runner was at third after a leadoff walk and an easy stolen base.

I asked Ottavino if, despite his career year, he might consider making some alterations to his mechanics moving forward in order to mitigate some of this. “Yeah, I’ve got to get better at that,” he replied.

Specifically, he seemed concerned about the way he handled the baserunning problems. With a naturally slow delivery (and neither catcher being a throwout artist) he has always been a candidate to run on, but a road trip in August saw the Brewers take off with almost every man who reached against him, including the slow-footed Ryan Braun.

After a few weeks, it was common to see players recording their first steal of the season against Ottavino and double-steals even became commonplace.

And while the slow delivery is a factor, it isn’t the only one.

“If you look at my career in the macro,” he says, “I had several years where I held runners really well and it wasn’t that I was much faster then, I just did a better job of varying times and picking off. I think this year, being that I was tougher to hit, it forced their hand to steal a little more and I didn’t really do a good enough job and probably didn’t care enough to hold them most of the time. But you can see how in a big spot, you’ve got to be able to do that and that’s definitely an area of weakness and embarrassment to me and I’ve got to be better at that.”

The whole thing kinda snuck up on him, and it’s easy to understand both how and why.

“Early on I wasn’t expecting them to be going so I wasn’t really locked in on that,” he says.
And then they took advantage of me for a little while before I realized, ‘hey this is a problem’ and then the way I looked at it was ‘I’ll just let them steal and then in a big moment I’ll pick somebody off,’ but I never ended up doing it. But in my mind, that was always an option.”

He again points back to overthinking. Lest we forget, this was Otto’s first season being a major part of a run into the postseason, spending most of 2017 searching for himself, he made his playoff debut in the Wild Card game.

He also admits that some of his great successes were masking these smaller (but still obviously important) issues. When asked if he had become a bit reliant on the strikeout, knowing that any walk or stolen base can be erased as long as the Ks pile up quickly enough, he responded, “there was a lot of that.”

Ottavino was hyper-focused in 2018 on returning to his best form in terms of quality pitches and in so doing, made himself elite in by far the most important aspect of his game. But it cost him in other areas that need to be addressed if he is going be worth closer’s money.

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