The Enigma of Alexi Ogando
Right hand pitcher Alexi Ogando is an enigma. Ever since his major league debut in 2010, the 29 year-old has been toying with the hearts of the front office and fans alike. In one appearance, Ogando will shut down an opponent’s offense with an upper 90’s fastball and power slider and in his next appearance he will labor through stressful innings with zero command of the strike zone. What else can the Rangers expect from a guy whose career has more up and downs than the Texas Giant?
Ogando first broke into the big leagues in 2010 after a 5 year ban from the U.S. for his involvement in a human trafficking ring. Since that time, the former outfielder has had his share of ups and downs. After a successful rookie campaign as a reliever (4-1, 1.30 ERA, 2.08 BAA) Ogando was converted to the starting rotation just before the start of the 2011 regular season after starter Tommy Hunter was lost to injury. Through the first half of the 2011 season, Ogando posted a 9-3 record with a 2.92 ERA and held opponents to a .213 average against him. After being selected to the AL All-Star team, the workload of starting pitching seemed to fatigue the right hander and finished the second half of the year going 4-5, 4.48 ERA, and .267 BAA. At the start of the playoffs Ogando was transitioned to the bullpen and would stay in that role for the entire 2012 season.
This year, Ogando has been given another shot at starting and has not fared well. Despite being on the disabled list twice, Ogando is on pace to set a career high in most pitching categories including ERA and WHIP. Although Ogando’s season statistics aren’t “jump off the page” bad, analytics gathered by the website FanGraphs tell a different story.
Ogando’s struggles this year can be directly tied to the disappearance of his dominant fastball. For his career, his fastball has been his best pitch clocking in at an average of 95 MPH but this season Ogando has only been able to average 93 on the radar gun. This small decline in velocity may be just enough for major league hitters to be able to catch up to the heater. On the season, hitters are making contact on 88% of fastballs swung at, up from last year’s average of 77%. Compound this with the fact that Ogando is constantly falling behind hitters (averaging 54% first pitch strikes, last among the Rangers active roster) forcing himself into fastball counts.
If Ogando cannot reestablish his upper 90s fastball, he must adapt his pitching style and become more focused on finesse and location or he will continue to get hit. Now that Matt Harrison and Colby Lewis have had a setback in their rehabs, the Rangers playoff hopes may now ride on how Ogando fares down the stretch. The enigma continues.