02 May 2008

Garrett Olson's 2008 Debut and Pitch f/x

Garrett Olson pitched last year in the majors and suffered a forgettable 32.1 IP. He logged in 28 Ks, which is respectable. He also wound up with 28 walks, which is not. He was also whacked with 42 hits. It was a rather forgettable first taste of the majors and he was chased with a lot of criticism about nibbling down and away.

In spring training this year, he was touted as the most likely fifth pitcher. Instead, the team signed Steve Trachsel and Olson was sent to the minors. The Orioles pitching coach informed him that he needed to learn how to go after hitters and not pitch "scared." At Norfolk he pulled in this line:

24.1 IP 1.85 ERA 18 K 9 BB 1.36 WHIP

Without knowing much about his starts . . . that WHIP suggests to me that he is quite hittable to AAA hitters. They seem not to be able to turn those hits into runs, which means there is a lot of luck or that Olson knows how to pitch and change speeds.

This past Wednesday, Olson was called up to face the Tampa Bay Rays. He came out with the win and had this line:

6.2 IP 2 R 4 H 6 K 5 BB

That walk rate is troublesome. Doubly so when that was one of the main issues with his poor performance last year. The hit rate is nice, but one game hit rates are notorious for being misleading. It was not a dominating performance, but at his age . . . he has room to grow. It looks, for the moment, to be good enough to give him five or so starts and then reevaluate. So let's get acquainted with Olson.

Pitch Selection:
Olson appears to use four pitches based on the f/x data. He throws a fastball, curve, slider, and change up.

His fastball tails about 9.5 inches and remains 7.9 inches up in the air (due to backspin) from a motionless pitch. It ranges from 88-93 mph. He throws this pitch 57% of the time and equally to each batter. With the small sample size of the number of pitches he threw, fastballs can be expected the majority of the time on 0-0, 1-0, 1-1, 2-0, 2-1,2-2, 3-0, and 3-1 counts. He never threw one on two 1-2 pitches and rarely threw it on 0-2 and 3-2 counts.

I thought Olson threw a mid-70s curveball, but it looks like the f/x system is a bit confused on this. It says he threw three curveballs and twenty seven sliders. He either threw a hard curve or a soft slider as the two groups look more like subsections than different pitches. I'm going to assume that he still uses his curve, but throws it slightly harder than I remember. Anyway, speed ranged from 79-83. The release point drops slightly in comparison with the fastball. It comes in 11.6 inches below the fastball or 2.1 inches below the trajectory of a spinless ball. The pitch breaks across 2.5 inches horizontally. This sure sounds like a weak slider. This pitch is thrown 38% of the time. 80% of these pitches were thrown to lefties and it is often used as his secondary strikeout pitch with the fastball being the primary one.

His changeup has a very similar release point to his fastball, which it should as it has to look like a fastball. Speed ranged from 79-83. It tailed slightly more than the fastball at 11.39 inches and came in about the same height. He threw this pitch 10% of the time and only to right-handed batters. He preferred throwing it at 0-0 and 1-0 counts.

This is probably the graph that needs the least amount of explanation. He throws inside and down toward the righties. This graph is not separated between righties and lefties, but it appears he never go low and outside to righties or low and inside on lefties. It would be nice if I had a better source for this data. Oh well.

Pitching Counts
A big knock on Olson last year was his inability to stay ahead in the count. I decided to break down his counts from last year and this year. First strikes were recorded 50% of the time (0-0 balls in play not included). This was up from last year when 44% were first strikes. To evaluate his progression through the counts, I created a graph. I did not include 0-0 counts in the calculations. Counts I included in the behind category were: 2-0, 3-0, and 3-1. These are situations where less pitches are required to result in a walk than a strikeout. I thought it more important to define counts on the endpoint as opposed to the progression. Even counts were: 1-0, 2-1, and 3-2. Ahead counts were: 0-1, 0-2, 1-1, 1-2, and 2-2. The result is the bar chart to the right. He is actually getting behind more in the count than he did in 2007. This should be a concern. Of course, it may just be a single game event. I'm not sure. If this was his "issue" last year, then it seems like he has done little to correct it.

Hit Quality
Another part of the puzzle may be that somehow he is able to induce poorly hit balls. This may be a skill or it may just be luck. Here is a comparison of important hit categories:
Ok, so what can you tell me from that? If we think what Olson did on Wednesday will continue, then it seems we think he is going to keep these new rates. Well . . . there is no way he can keep a 5.9% line drive rate. His batting average against (BAA) would be about .180 and his stuff is not that good. Now, has he become a groundball pitcher? That is a large shift and I am inclined not to believe that is one. I think when the rates shift to something more reasonable, the number left on base will also decline. I am completely and totally confident that he cannot sustain that level of batted ball success. It has been mentioned that he is hiding the ball better this year and if that has anything to do with it . . . David Blaine is a chump. Olson would be the master illusionist.

Having only looked at the stats and not one second of video . . . take this for whatever you think it is worth. Olson is young and is bound to improve, but his rates suggest he just might get shelled in his next start. I hope I am wrong. One game is not much to base an opinion on. He needs to improve on the number of walks he gives up, his counts, and somehow retain a high enough groundball percentage (or else those eventual long balls are going to knock him out of games). He definitely has talent, but I doubt he has arrived. If we are able to acquire some of his pitching performance . . . Stotle will analyze it, put it up here, and tell me that I am wrong.


Nick J Faleris said...

Great write-up, Craw. Absolutely loved the read. You should make this a regular piece for various starters -- especially as the MiLers come up.

Jon Shepherd said...

Thanks. Yeah, I figured I would write on all the young guys coming up and also people who have improved or done worse. I might also getting into some batters and their f/x charts. Lots of stuff at which to look.

Brooks said...

This is great stuff thank you. I think it was premature to do this analysis after one 2008 start but using the same methods when more data is available should reveal some fundamental truth.

You've just earned this reader's attention!