Well, 2016 is over and now we get to turn our attention at predicting the future of the Oakland A’s. Today up for discussion is Matt Olson. Specifically we will be discussing his offensive abilities, because I think it is safe to say that’s the area where he has the chance to offer the most benefit to the club (plus I really don’t care about defense). So let’s go through his stats and video and see what his future may look like.
Background and Stats
Matt Olson was the 1st round (supplemental) pick (47th overall) of the 2012 Draft by Oakland. He currently is listed at 6-4’ and 235 lbs. Olson bats left, throws right and plays first base and outfield. Olson made a name for himself to Oakland fans in his first full season in pro ball by hitting 23 home runs in 2013 Class A season. To go along with the 23 home runs, he also slashed .225/.326/.435. The batting average makes you wince some. Olson was starting to show his still-going trend of having the batting average pulled down by a pretty high K%, which in 2013 was 26.5%. That’s pretty high folks for A ball. 2014 was more of the same in A+ Stockton. Olson hammered 37 bombs to go along with a .262/.404/.543. (I saw one of the home runs in person. It nearly went through the concession stand out past right field at Banner Island Ballpark. It was hit HARD.) 2015 saw Olson at AA Midland, where he had basically the same season as 2014 minus 20 home runs. His stats were 17 HR and .249/.388/.438. Then this year in AAA Nashville Olson had the same season again, just minus a bunch of walks to drag down his OBP. Olson closed out the 2016 AAA season with 17 HR and a .235/.335/.422.
Olson was called up in September for a cup of coffee with the big league club. The stats aren’t great. He drew a good percentage of walks, and that’s about it. About all we can take away from the time in positive sense is that he got his first at-bat, hit and walk out of the way. Congrats, seriously not everyone does that. Believe me.
OK. So from this we have a pretty decent picture of Olson. He isn’t going to challenge the all-time hits record. He isn’t going to steal a lot of bases. Olson’s potential is from drawing walks and hitting for power. We are going to have to live with quite a few strikeouts. But is he going to make enough contact for the power to play? Let’s try to find out but taking a look at some of his swings.
Let’s jump straight to his time with Oakland and take a look at his first hit.
Alright, so this may sound a little rough but that isn’t a great swing. And the result wasn’t great either but it worked. A really important point for this at-bat is the pitch location. The pitch is down and away, but a strike. I bring this up because left-handed hitters see the VAST majority of their pitches down and away. Left handed hitters either have to be able to hit these pitches, or let them go and do serious damage on the few pitches they see elsewhere. At 6’4" I’m going to go out on a limb and guess Olson is going to see quite a few pitches low and away. What worries me on this at-bat is Olson’s swing plane is pretty flat. See how his barrel is laying back behind his shoulder. I call that flat. The opposite would be if his bat was perfectly straight up and down. I call that steep.
Hitters’ swing planes can either be steep or flat naturally. For a flat plane, think of a merry-go-round. It spins around and is pretty consistent at one height. The steep plane is like Ferris wheel, it spins vertically and is in one place translationally. Hitters with a more merry-do-round swing love high pitches, but can struggle with lower pitches if they can’t make the adjustments with the body. Likewise, with Ferris wheel guys, high fastballs can be a challenge.
Regardless if you have a more flat or steep plane, the key is going to be making it work for all pitch locations. If you are pretty flat like Olson here, the concern becomes handling the low pitches. On this pitch, Olson did not handle the pitch well. I would prefer to see his barrel come in more steep and drive this ball to center to right-center field.
This is a concern I had on Olson way back in 2014 when I saw him Stockton. From the side we can see the barrel start to fall behind him very early. From there the tendency is to go merry-go-round and cut the barrel across the body, rolling over on pitches on the outer third. (As a hitting instructor, I see this a ton and I frigging hate it.)
I would like to see Olson get the bat in a more vertical position, so he can make a better path to the ball on the outside pitches. Oh maybe like someone like an Adrian Gonzalez.
There isn’t a lot of footage of Olson’s MLB at-bats, but here is another weak roll-over on low-outside pitch. Not sexy. Notice his barrel’s path is across his body instead of through the ball. Something tells me Olson is going to see a lot of two-seamers and change-ups from righties.
Going through his video from MiLB.com, his highlights are pretty consistent. A lot of damage done on high fastballs. Here’s one Olson hit about a mile. Notice the merry-go-round path.
Belt high pitch, bomb. Right in the merry-go-round.
Here’s another one on a pitch down the middle. Result was good but my goodness that is a flat path.
There is good news folks. I did find some at-bats where Olson stayed through the ball with a more Ferris wheel path and drove and outside pitch hard. Like this one.
That is a much better path than his first big league hit. See how his finish is much higher instead of across his body like the swing in Oakland. Still yet, I worry starting from such a flat position makes executing this swing on a consistent basis pretty difficult. The guy who comes to mind is Joc Pederson. Last year he had a similar move of really getting the bat flat early in his swing. As the season wore on between the wear and tear and pitchers making adjustments it took its toll. In turn, Pederson made it an emphasis to come in with a steeper approach this year, and he has had a more consistent year.
So what does an afternoon of internet scouting tell us about the future of Matt Olson? Not a great deal. He naturally has a pretty flat (merry-go-round) swing plane, which for a tall left-handed hitter gives me some concern. He has shown the ability to go more Ferris wheel and drive outside pitches, so that’s good. My concern is if he can do it consistently against MLB pitching.
But we also can’t grade a hitter’s swing in a vacuum; we have to take into account approach and physical tools. Olson has shown pretty good control of the strike zone, so perhaps he can be patient enough and lay off the tough pitches and do enough damage on the ones he can handle.
For his outlook I’m pessimistically optimistic - if there is such a thing. I absolutely hate to see hitters cut across the ball like Olson did in his first hit. That ain’t gonna work. But given that I found at least one swing of him having a good path on an outside pitch, maybe that skill is there and he can bring it out. And who knows, Olson was probably a little worn out by September so it may not be fair to judge him too much on his first hit. (Some things in life you don’t want to be judged by the way you do them the first time.) And I have seen the power first hand, so with just some contact he can be dangerous. That and Olson is an Oakland prospect, and the Good Lord knows Oakland needs some help out there if I am going to keep watching this team.
Still, I would feel a great deal better if he reported to Arizona in the spring with the barrel more vertical during his stride so he can attack those pitches from a better angle. My advice for the offseason for Matt Olson: don’t spend your time playing on the merry-go-round, get tickets for the Ferris wheel.