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Matt Olson Is On the Up-Swing

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MLB: Seattle Mariners at Oakland Athletics Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Despite a scorching mid-month period in which the A’s took 7 out of 10 games from the AL East’s New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, and Toronto Blue Jays, the Oakland A’s offense has been asleep most of May. Jed Lowrie has cooled down, Matt Chapman has seemingly decided that hitting isn’t fun anymore, and Khris Davis was lost (although hopefully only briefly) to the disabled list. One Athletics, however, has perked up and come back to life after a dismal start and all signs point to a much better summer for Matt Olson than his spring thus far.

Through 27 March and April games Olson was batting .257/.342/.376, though mostly thanks to a .390 BABIP. Since then Olson has reversed course, losing 68 points from his batting average and on-base percentage combined, but gaining more than 100 points in his slugging percentage. Matt Olson’s line resembles something of a better-than-average hitter and the power threat the A’s thought they had in hand at the outset of 2018.

Olson’s Improvement

In Mid-April I took stock of where Matt Olson was at in his follow-up to 2017’s power binge. All signs indicated he was still the same slugger he was last season, the only difference being the swing-and-miss part of his game had taken over. Olson sported the league’s worst zone-contact rate and although he was stroking the ball at exit velocities near the top of the leaderboard he just couldn’t do it often enough to matter. That has changed.

Olson’s Plate Discipline: March/April vs. May

Month(s) O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% O-Contact% Z-Contact% Contact% Zone% F-Strike% SwStr%
Month(s) O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% O-Contact% Z-Contact% Contact% Zone% F-Strike% SwStr%
March/April 27.8 % 64.4 % 42.8 % 56.8 % 65.4 % 62.1 % 41.0 % 53.5 % 16.2 %
May 26.3 % 75.4 % 44.9 % 74.0 % 74.1 % 74.1 % 37.9 % 49.5 % 11.7 %
Fangraphs.com

His contact rate and zone-contact rate are each up more than 8 points, and despite swinging more often his swinging-strike rate is down 5 points. He is starting to resemble his 2017 self.

Olson’s Plate Discipline: 2017 vs. May, 2018

Year O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% O-Contact% Z-Contact% Contact% Zone% F-Strike% SwStr%
Year O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% O-Contact% Z-Contact% Contact% Zone% F-Strike% SwStr%
2017 28.3 % 68.2 % 44.9 % 56.3 % 78.0 % 70.0 % 41.6 % 56.9 % 13.5 %
May, 2018 26.3 % 75.4 % 44.9 % 74.0 % 74.1 % 74.1 % 37.9 % 49.5 % 11.7 %
Fangraphs.com

It is no wonder Olson’s productivity has increased as his ability to put the bat on ball has improved.

As Matt Olson’s zone-contact rate has improved so has his production.

Olson has been able to make contact with greater frequency without sacrificing his elite power. His average exit-velocity from March and April nearly matches that of May.

Olson’s Statcast: March/April vs. May

Month(s) Avg. Exit Velocity Avg. Launch Angle wOBA xwOBA
Month(s) Avg. Exit Velocity Avg. Launch Angle wOBA xwOBA
March/April 93.5 MPH 15.5 deg. 0.315 0.373
May 94.3 MPH 16.8 deg. 0.336 0.365
BaseballSavant.com

Adjustment Period

Is Olson adjusting and timing pitches better? Or is the league adjusting to him and hoping to catch him in his slump? Olson has seen many more fastballs in May than he did in March and April. It appears pitches may be challenging him slightly more, expecting him to miss. Per Statcast:

Olson’s Pitch Type

Month(s) Pitch Type % Whiff% wOBA xwOBA Avg. Exit Velocity Avg. Launch Angle BB% K%
Month(s) Pitch Type % Whiff% wOBA xwOBA Avg. Exit Velocity Avg. Launch Angle BB% K%
March/April Fastballs 56.5 35.0 0.347 0.367 94.3 18 7.9 30.2
May Fastballs 64.8 29.4 0.284 0.343 95.6 22 10.7 26.8
March/April Breaking 26.6 45.8 0.392 0.484 90.9 8 7.4 40.7
May Breaking 18.6 32.4 0.400 0.369 93.3 12 13.6 27.3
March/April Offspeed 16.9 44.4 0.143 0.272 93.8 16 9.1 36.4
May Offspeed 16.5 17.1 0.396 0.408 92.7 11 8 8
BaseballSavant.com

Conclusion

The results aren’t exactly where Olson’s wants them, I’m sure. But he seems to climbing out of the hole which he dug himself into early in 2018 and that is important. Now hopefully we will see Matt Chapman and Stephen Piscotty right the ship and this offense will hopefully start floating again.