Johan Oviedo is grappling with a persistent issue concerning his fastball. According to Baseball Savant, the Pittsburgh right-hander’s four-seam fastball has been notably problematic this season, tallying a concerning value of -9.1 runs. This performance ranks it as the 26th least effective four-seamer and the 49th least valuable pitch among all pitches in Major League Baseball. The root of the problem lies in the fact that this pitch has an 18.1% whiff rate, indicating its difficulty in fooling batters, and a high 47% hard-hit rate.
Fortunately, Oviedo has found solace in his slider and curveball, which, when combined, have contributed a noteworthy 16 runs in value. This achievement ranks his breaking pitches as the ninth most valuable among all pitchers in the league.
If you’re thinking that Oviedo should rely more on his curveball and slider to address his fastball troubles, it appears you’re not alone in that assessment. Johan Oviedo himself seems to share your sentiment. In April, across six starts, Oviedo leaned heavily on his breaking balls, utilizing them in approximately 63.5% of his pitches. Remarkably, only one player, Hunter Brown, surpassed this breaking ball usage rate in April, and he did so while throwing significantly fewer pitches than Oviedo.
However, in a surprising twist, it turns out that Johan Oviedo may not entirely agree with the idea of relying predominantly on his breaking pitches either.
Johan Oviedo’s reliance on his breaking ball has been on the decline for most of the season, settling at a usage rate in the low 40s. This development might leave you feeling the need to voice your frustration once again. Why, indeed, has Oviedo reverted to predominantly featuring his least effective pitch rather than his more potent offerings?
To unravel this puzzle, let’s rewind to 2020, when Oviedo first entered the Major Leagues. Back then, baseball analyst Ben Clemens spotted him as a potential candidate to follow in the footsteps of Corbin Burnes. The idea was to replace Oviedo’s unimpressive four-seam fastball with a sinker that possessed the ability to generate sinking movement, and perhaps even incorporate a cutter into his repertoire. Like Burnes, Oviedo boasted multiple standout secondary pitches, including a slider with a promising future grade of 60, and a curveball that induced plenty of swings and misses in a limited sample size. Notably, his slider also induced a significant number of ground balls, making it his most effective pitch.
However, his four-seam fastball failed to impress. It lacked movement and ranked in the fourth percentile for vertical movement. Furthermore, it suffered from a combination of low spin rate (2,277 rpm at 94.8 mph) and predominantly gyroscopic spin. In fact, Oviedo’s 53.1% active spin percentage was even lower than Burnes’ figures during the 2019 season.
Now, let’s fast-forward to 2022. Oviedo’s pitch selection hasn’t undergone any major changes. He still relies on the four-seamer, alongside a highly effective slider, a solid curveball, and an unremarkable changeup. In June, the Cardinals promoted Oviedo from Triple-A, where he began his season, and after a promising first start, he went on to post a 2.66 ERA and a 3.56 FIP over 13 relief appearances.
Following this successful stint, the Cardinals traded Oviedo to the Pittsburgh Pirates, trading his strong two months for pitcher José Quintana. Pittsburgh then assigned Johan Oviedo to Triple-A Indianapolis for a month to transition into a starting role, and during his September call-up, he recorded a 3.23 ERA and a 3.47 FIP over seven starts.
During the offseason, Johan Oviedo embraced a new approach by incorporating a sinker into his repertoire, a strategy aimed at alleviating the issues with his flat four-seamer. Spring training saw Oviedo working on this sinker, but at some point in mid-March, he temporarily set it aside to focus on refining his four-seamer and changeup. It seems that the sinker wasn’t yet ready to play a prominent role, and Johan Oviedo wanted to polish his existing pitches. At that time, he acknowledged the importance of the sinker, particularly when he needed to induce ground balls, stating, “I’m definitely going to need that pitch, especially when I need a groundball. The season is almost here, and I need to perform.”
However, as spring training concluded and the regular season commenced, Johan Oviedo surprised everyone by throwing breaking balls at an astonishing rate of 63.5%. Both his slider and curve gained approximately 2.5 mph in velocity. While Oviedo’s penchant for leading with his slider wasn’t entirely new, the twist came from the increased utilization of his curveball, which replaced his four-seamer. He expertly used the curveball to complement his four-seamer and maintain tunneling consistency.
The reasons behind Oviedo’s fluctuating pitch selection continue to intrigue and raise questions about his evolving approach on the mound.
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