Who is New Cubs Pitcher Joe Ortiz?

We’re going to be running a couple of posts about the Cubs bullpen here in the near future, so I had spent some time reading and thinking about that unit late Monday afternoon. As much as the ‘pens have factored in the playoffs thus far, you have to think the Cubs will look to bolster their own in pursuit of the stated goal of winning the NL Central.

Theo Epstein did say that now was the time “to be adding some talent from outside the organization that will further round out our club.” And Jed Hoyer followed that up with a claim that there is “no question” the Cubs are going to spend in the offseason. But will that be on a veteran bat, a top-of-the-rotation starter, or perhaps a LOOGY?

Lo and behold, as I was checking the Twitter, I saw this little nugget from the intrepid Patrick Mooney:

Boom! Two birds, one stone. Money spent, outside talent acquired. No need to worry about the Winter Meetings folks, the Cubs front office has officially accomplished exactly what it set out to do. Okay, well, that’s probably not the case. At least, I hope it’s not the case. If Joe Ortiz is the only addition this offseason, I’m going to sorely disappointed.

Seriously though, I was a actually a little excited about the move when I first saw it because it’s nice to see the team making moves, even seemingly inauspicious ones. I knew little about Ortiz outside of the fact that he was a lefty who had most recently played for the Texas Rangers. So is he?

The first thing I noticed was that the young Venezuelan is kind of a little fella, standing just 5’7″ and tipping the scales at 175 pounds, which is downright Altuvian. The next thing I saw was that after a 2013 MLB debut at age 22, Ortiz failed to pitch so much as a fraction of an inning for the Rangers this year.

That’s because he suffered a broken foot after being struck by a motorcycle while he was back home during the offseason. Or perhaps he slipped while washing his truck, right Jeff Kent? Either way, the injury forced him to miss more than three months of the season, during which he totaled only 18 inning between Rookie-league and Double-A. Ortiz put up a 4.00 ERA while striking out 9 and walking 2 in that limited action.

Neither that sample size nor his sub-45-inning cup of coffee in 2013 provide us with much of a window into the type of pitcher he’ll become, but the Cubs must have seen something that intrigued them enough to take a flyer on the kid. It probably wasn’t the 4.23 ERA or the 3.97 FIP with Texas, though his minor league stats look much better.

In fact, Ortiz appears to have been pretty lights-out in the Rangers system, typically carrying an ERA well under 3 at his various stops. Early in his career, which began when he was only 17 years old, Ortiz was a strikeout artist, averaging as many as 15.43 K/9 at high-A in 2010. Those numbers have decreased significantly though and he was at 5.44 K/9 with the Rangers.

But Ortiz also issues his fair share of walks. Over 61 innings between AAA and MLB in 2013, he averaged 2.66 BB/9, not necessarily a sparkling statistic. The control was actually better with the Rangers though, at just 2.01 BB/9. Compared to Cubs relievers with at least 40 IP this season, that mark is better than Pedro Strop (3.69), Wesley Wright (3.54), Justin Grimm (3.52), Neil Ramirez (3.50), Brian Schlitter (3.04), Carlos Villanueva (2.20), and Hector Rondon (2.13). Okay, so maybe it’s not that bad after all.

The ability to induce ground balls is a must for a pitcher who calls Wrigley Field home. Ortiz was passable in that area, keeping the ball on the ground at a 39.5% clip, which would put him ahead of only Neil Ramirez (26%) out of that former group. It’s not just where the ball is hit though, it’s how hard, something we can see through BABIP.

In 2013, Ortiz had a BABIP against of .287, which is better than all but Ramirez (.262), Strop (.268), and Rondon (.286), all of whom are righties. Alright, things are starting to look a little more promising. A blurb on MLB Trade Rumors stated that Baseball America had rated Ortiz as the Rangers’ 30th-ranked prospect heading into 2013, noting that his breaking ball made him a candidate to hold down a spot in a major league bullpen.

So how about that pitch repertoire, eh? According to PITCHf/x, Ortiz utilizes his fastball about 47% of the time, with a near-equal split of 4-seamer and sinker. The slider is next at 31%, then the change at around 20%. As his frame indicates, Ortiz doesn’t throw particularly hard, hovering just above 90 with the heater, 83 with the slide-piece, and 78 with the change.

Contrary to the aforementioned report, the pitch-value metrics seem to indicate that the changeup is Ortiz’s best pitch. During his stint in Arlington, it had a linear value of 2.4 runs above average (where 0 is average, positive numbers good and negative bad), while the fastball registered -3.0 and the slider -1.5 runs.

But maybe the Cubs think this guy can be a LOOGY, so let’s see how he fared against like-handed hitters. While lefties did bat a little worse than righties, the difference (.254 vs. .264) was negligible; not much there to indicate that he’s dominant against the sinister segment of the population.

After further review, this move appears to be little more than what it was on the surface, a very low-risk play to add some depth to their bullpen of the future. At only 24, Ortiz still has his prime years ahead of him but he’s also got parts of 7 seasons of professional baseball under his belt. He’s got a salary of just over $500,000, isn’t arbitration-eligible until 2017 and won’t be a free agent until 2020.

There isn’t anything about this signing that screams “diamond in the rough,” but the same could have been said about Jake Arrieta. What’s more, the Cubs have had success in picked up unheralded pitchers from the Rangers system, so they’ve got that going for them.

I highly doubt this will pickup will ever be talked about alongside the purchases of Manhattan, Alaska, or the Louisiana Territory, but it won’t go down in infamy either. If Ortiz can dial in a couple of those pitches and improve his efficacy against lefties, there’s no reason to believe he can’t be an effective part of the ‘pen moving forward.

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