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The $64,000 Question Of Matt Olson’s Sustainability

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MLB: Game Two-Houston Astros at Oakland Athletics John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

Matt Olson, first ballot Hall of Famer? It’s easy to get carried away when a player gets off to the kind of start Matt Olson has – the kind of which dreams and misprints are made.

Can we reasonably expect Olson to HR at a career rate of a bomb every 9.88 plate appearances? No we cannot. Will 37.8 of Olson’s fly balls find their way over the wall throughout his career? Likely not. Is a .268/.351/.624 slash line sustainable? Don’t wait up.

While you’re asking if I’m available for parties, it should also be noted that a cavernous drop from “Hall of Fame awesomeness” to downright pedestrian failure is a plunge thousands of big league players have taken. You can’t look at a .975 OPS and conclude, “OK, maybe not .975 but clearly he can put up at least an .875…” It doesn’t work that way. Ask Jharel Cotton, he of the 4 consecutive one-run gems last September, or Daric Barton and his .347/.429/.639 slash line in September, 2007.

It’s not just a small sample thing, or a regression thing. It’s that baseball now only gives you a glimpse of baseball later. The rest you have to figure out how to guess for yourself.

Which brings us back to Olson and the question of how much of what he is doing is truly sustainable going forward? If he can’t possibly continue to mash at this rate, can he at least mash at a high enough percentage of this rate to thrive in the big leagues?

There are, in fact, several promising signs in this regard, such as the ways in which Olson actually has room to improve. Olson’s walk rate of 9.5% is lower than all projections (11.1%-11.2%) and so his OBP, .083 points above his batting average may well have room to grow. Especially if he keeps scaring pitchers with consistent HR power, I will not be surprised to see Olson’s OBP settle in at .100+ points above his batting average.

As for the Eyeball Scout, while the swing sometimes still looks long against hard throwers, it is also awfully pretty and you can see why Olson, like Brandon Moss before him, hits the ball awfully hard when he does hit it.

My bottom line? I have no illusions about Olson batting .268 going forward. His batting average will be suppressed by numerous factors, from high K rates to being a fly ball hitter to hitting into the shift.

As a result it’s hard to envision Olson settling in to being much more than a .240 hitter. But oh man, the power looks real – even sometimes to the opposite field if he is pitched away, as will likely be the case given how well he has turned on inside pitches even a bit off the plate. And if Olson emerges as just a .235/.340/.520 hitter, a 30 HR man who plays very solid defense at 1B? We have ourselves quite a ballplayer here, folks.

Am I being too Pollyanna, seduced by falling in love in September as you are never supposed to do? Or am I being too pessimistic in the face of a player who has taken the league by storm? Or am I right on? These are the $64,000 questions. Oh and if you’re wondering, a player who makes $64,000 per game earns just a touch over $10,000,000.

As to the answer, I will say this: I have always been agnostic on Olson as a prospect and for the first time I’m finding it difficult not to be a believer.

Poll

What do you think of the .235/.340/.520 slash line suggested in the article for Olson going forward?

This poll is closed

  • 7%
    Too optimistic
    (38 votes)
  • 50%
    Too pessimistic
    (249 votes)
  • 42%
    Right on
    (209 votes)
496 votes total Vote Now