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Where has Matt Olson’s Power Gone?

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim  v Oakland Athletics
Matt Olson isn’t hitting dingers right now. What gives?
Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

I texted a friend last night “Matt Olson might suck … He’s a disaster.” It’s since been half a day and I’ve decided to step down from that ledge, my friend. Matt Olson does not suck and his poor results through two weeks of the 2018 season are due to wrong timing and bad luck.

Olson’s batting line is down almost entirely across the board. The only thing that isn’t down is his BABIP, which is strangely up to .375. Still, a .241/.323/.345 triple slash, .305 wOBA and 96 wRC+ are a far cry from how he finished 2017. His batting average and OBP don’t even look that bad, and are even in line with many pre-season projections for Olson. It’s the power that is missing. You’d have been foolish to expect a repeat of his .392 ISO from 2017, but given what we saw from Olson last season you’d have been as foolish to expect his current ISO of .103. What is the matter?

My First Guess: Timing

Olson has always had swing-and-miss in his game, so it’s no surprise he’s striking out a lot. It is a little troubling that he isn’t walking as often as he has in the past (at least 10.2 BB% each year since low-A ball). The problem isn’t the whiffs as much as it is what he’s whiffing at, though.

Olson’s Plate Discipline

Season Team O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% O-Contact% Z-Contact% Contact% SwStr%
Season Team O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% O-Contact% Z-Contact% Contact% SwStr%
2017 Athletics 28.30% 68.20% 44.90% 56.30% 78.00% 70.00% 13.40%
2018 Athletics 27.00% 67.20% 44.20% 51.20% 62.50% 58.50% 18.40%
2018 MLB Average 28.80% 66.20% 45.10% 61.70% 85.10% 76.60% 10.50%

The first two rows are Olson’s plate discipline numbers from each of the past two seasons. The first three columns don’t show any meaningful change. Olson is swinging as often as he did in 2017 and at mostly at the same pitches. The last four columns are what seem troubling. Overall Olson is making far less contact in 2018 than 2017, with the biggest culprit being pitches in the zone. But a 16% drop in zone contact rate is both alarming and calming at the same time. Swinging and missing can be just as much an issue with timing as it is with anything else. It was a long time between seeing major league pitching for Olson and that seems to still be affecting him, despite getting an entire major league spring training this year.

The third row are the MLB plate discipline averages so far in 2018. Across the board his 2017 plate discipline was much closer to average than what we’ve seen so far in 2018.

Without these individual swing metrics we’d see Olson’s near-40% strikeout rate and assume the worst. I see his swing rates appearing normal, but his contact rates all down and I believe there is a problem with his timing, not selectivity. I’m not ready to accept this is the new normal for Olson and that his electric half-season in 2017 was just a flash in the pan.

My Second Guess: Luck

The only must-see baseball for me is when the Lowrie-Davis-Olson-Chapman group comes to bat. So naturally I watched a lot good plat appearances this weekend when the A’s came to Seattle. Lowrie, Davis, and Chapman each homered at least once. Many other at-bats ended in a rocket off the bat and into a fielder’s glove, like two screaming 110+ MPH line drives of Chapman’s yesterday.

Olson, however, didn’t get in on the fun. There was a moment yesterday when I thought he had hit one out - an opposite field fly ball that resulted in an easy out. At 99 MPH off the bat, this fly ball at which Olson merely flicked his bat just didn’t have enough carry to land for extra bases. Therein lies the problem. Olson is still hitting the ball hard, just not in the right direction or at the right angle to send him trotting around the bases.

Olson’s Batted Ball Data

Season Team GB/FB LD% GB% FB% IFFB% HR/FB Pull% Cent% Oppo% Soft% Med% Hard%
Season Team GB/FB LD% GB% FB% IFFB% HR/FB Pull% Cent% Oppo% Soft% Med% Hard%
2017 Athletics 0.83 15.9 % 38.1 % 46.0 % 10.3 % 41.4 % 49.6 % 28.7 % 21.7 % 17.8 % 41.9 % 40.3 %
2018 Athletics 0.92 32.4 % 32.4 % 35.3 % 0.0 % 16.7 % 29.4 % 44.1 % 26.5 % 5.9 % 52.9 % 41.2 %

On a rate basis Olson has hit fewer ground balls that last year, which is good. He has yet to hit an infield fly ball, which is fantastic! His line drive rate is up, which is a great thing except that his line drives are coming at the expense of fly balls. He is driving the ball to all fields and has seen a significant increase in medium and hard-hit balls. Again, these are almost all good things. Even the flyball-for-line-drive trade could be seen as a positive as Olson’s 12-to-1 HR/double ratio in 2017 was just unsustainable. Maybe he’s correcting himself?

Statcast also tells us that Olson should be finding success on his batted-balls:

Olson’s Statcast Data

Year wOBA xwOBA xBA Exit Velocity Launch Angle
Year wOBA xwOBA xBA Exit Velocity Launch Angle
2017 0.411 0.39 0.254 90.8 15.7
2018 0.298 0.341 0.245 93.3 14.8

You can see Olson is hitting the ball harder so far than in 2017, but at a slightly lower angle. Perhaps this is the root of his decreased fly ball and increased line drive rates?

When Olson has put the ball in the air this season it has looked just like it did last year, per Olson’s Statcast data on fly balls and lin drives:

Olson’s Fly Balls and Line Drives

Year wOBA xwOBA xBA Exit Velocity Launch Angle
Year wOBA xwOBA xBA Exit Velocity Launch Angle
2017 0.943 0.795 0.518 98 27.9
2018 0.539 0.650 0.505 97.1 26.5


On the surface Olson looks like he’s suffering from the anticipated regression, even if it is more severe than many expected. And that’s okay. If it’s a matter of approach or mechanics this early in the season a young player has a great opportunity to make adjustments. I don’t think that is the problem, however.

Olson is doing many things right even if they’ve mostly gone wrong for him. I’m optimistic that as we approach May the barrel of his bat with hit the ball more often and more of his line drives and fly balls will find gaps or fly over walls.