"I don't know that I'm a dominant pitcher yet, but all my pitches are working. I have to keep working. I'll get better. I know I can do my job out there." - Alexi Ogando, 5/13
From low-level outfielder in the Athletics organization to converted fireballer to perpetually island-confined restricted-list occupant -- a designation which memorably brought a frustrated Omar Beltre to tears on at least one occasion -- to major league setup man to holder of one of the top five starting pitching ERAs in the American League. And, most recently, a 6.1-inning, one-run showing to take down the division-leading Angels. Not even in your wildest dreams could you have envisioned Ogando's odyssey taking him to the place that he is right now. I'm not sure even Ogando himself could have dreamed this up, and yet here we are.
I believe it is critical for anyone who objectively regards himself or herself as a baseball analyst -- including both scouting- and saber-oriented writers and, yes, all of the unpublished but nevertheless numbers-driven baseball fans out there -- to be able to produce an intelligible opinion, adequately support their position, and then have the confidence to stand firm in their position when challenged. If you're too wishy-washy, people won't take you seriously. However, you also have to realize that baseball is a game rife with moving targets, and that every now and then a player will come along who does nothing but shatter your preconceived notions every step of the way.
To this point, at least, the concerns about his durability-compromising mechanics have proven unfounded, but it's a long season and the circumstances surrounding both Ogando and the starting rotation at large have made it so that he's not going anywhere for the foreseeable future. In other words, it doesn't appear that he's going to be transitioned back to the bullpen out of some fear for his health; there are probably some Rangers personnel that would prefer to see him revert to the eighth-inning role for that exact reason, but his current performance and the fact that the current No. 6 starter is Dave Bush is quite enough to ensure the security of Ogando's rotation spot for the time being.
With all of that being said, I must admit that two of my other areas of concern about Ogando are currently being blown to hell. Back on April 11th, I wondered aloud how he would adjust when encountered head-on by some of the American League's heavier-hitting lineups, and whether he would be able to remain committed to attack mode when everything stopped coming quite so easy for him. This is rather difficult to quantify, and I think this is one of those cases where you don't really need the numbers to tell you that Ogando has shown a demonstrated fearless streak in him, or that he doesn't rashly deviate from his game plan due to a spot of trouble. The stress-testing is far from over, but it's becoming increasingly difficult to not believe in his ability to adjust to whatever situation the game throws at him.
Of particular interest in this regard is the renascent change-up, which he tossed on 10 different occasions last night -- mostly off the fastball, and with adequate results when he managed to put it in the zone (one foul tip, one called strike, two swinging strikes, one force out, and five balls). The quality of the pitch, his ability to command it, and the deception he's able to throw it with (e.g. the arm speed separation between the fastball and change-up) are all very important considerations, and it's still a bit early to declare that the change-up is going to become an effective staple in his arsenal ... but if it somehow does, the concern on the part of both myself and others about Ogando being a 2.5-pitch guy will be vastly diminished, and opposing managers won't get quite so much mileage out of the loading-up-on-lefties lineup tactic.
Fact: Ogando won't continue to be this good from a pure run-prevention standpoint. He can't continue to be this good. Starting pitchers -- not even the most elite of the elite -- don't walk away with sub-.200 BABIPs or baserunner strand rates pushing 100 percent over the long haul. This emerging Ogando-is-unstoppable narrative has a finite life to it, but we can accept that while also acknowledging that Ogando is doing things right now that very few of us could have expected before the season began, is evolving in a way that I really can't say I foresaw, and is further solidifying his status as a serious rotation asset with each passing week.