The 27-year-old outfielder-turned-reliever-turned-starting pitcher has turned in 10 quality starts in 12 outings this season, and is fourth among qualified starters with a 2.10 ERA.
The question is, of course: Is Alexi Ogando for real?
Ogando was originally signed by the Oakland Athletics out of the Dominican Republic as an outfielder in 2003. The Rangers acquired him in the Rule 5 draft in 2005 and converted him to a pitcher. He was later banned from the U.S. for five years for his involvement in a human trafficking ring.
Ogando pitched in the Dominican Summer League before returning to the U.S. to pitch for the Rangers’ Double-A and Triple-A teams in 2010.
Ogando totaled just 111.2 career minor league innings, appearing in 59 games (only three starts). He boasted a 1.37 ERA, 0.91 WHIP and impressive 12.6 K/9 and 1.9 BB/9 rates.
Ogando was promoted to the majors last June, where he compiled a 1.30 ERA and 1.13 WHIP in 44 appearances (41.2 innings) out of the bullpen. His strikeout (8.42) and walk (3.46) rates suffered, but were still very good.
The Rangers inserted him into the starting rotation this season, despite starting in only three of his 103 career pro appearances.
Needless to say, it’s been a great decision. The problem is, Ogando is producing at an unsustainable rate.
His 2.10 ERA is going to regress towards the mean, there’s no doubting that. How far? Well, his FIP suggests he’s actually been a 3.55 pitcher this season, nearly a run-and-a-half worse than his ERA indicates. Similarly, his xFIP predicts a future 3.66 ERA.
But why is this?
Ogando’s BABIP is .210, the absolute lowest among qualified starters in the majors. His strand rate is 88.2 percent, the absolute highest among qualified starters. Simply put, he’s experienced a great deal of luck.
Ogando’s line-drive rate is a whopping 20.4 percent, the 28th highest among 114 qualified starters. In other words, hitters are making good contact, but their hitting the ball right at defenders. Ogando’s contact rate (80.5 percent) is right around the league average, supporting this theory.
Ogando worked a career high 72.1 innings between Double-A, Triple-A and Texas last season. This year, he’s already surpassed that number, with 81.1 innings to his name in 12 starts.
It’d be unreasonable to expect him to continue working at this pace towards a 200-inning season. In fact, Ogando has only 234.2 pro innings under his belt.
In comparison, Mariners’ rookie Michael Pineda—who is five years younger than Ogando—has pitched 481.2 pro innings.
Ogando is relatively new to pitching. Not only is it unreasonable to expect him to pitch more than two-and-a-half times his career high in innings this season, but he’s still evolving as a pitcher. It’s likely that the American League will adjust to his two-pitch arsenal the second time around.
So to answer the question of whether to buy or sell Alexi Ogando’s incredible start to the 2011 season: Sell, sell, sell!
Closer’s Corner, Week 10: Soria, Bailey, Guerra, Rauch & More