Monday, May 11, 2009

Scott Olsen: Better Than Cabrera... barely

The streak is over… the Nationals three game tear ended in the desert yesterday as the defense continued perform like they are still recovering from a Cinco de Mayo hangover. It also didn’t help that Scott Olsen brought out a D-minus game for the fourth time in seven starts. The Nationals have been patient waiting for Olsen to find his comfort zone. This has allowed him to lead the National League in both hits and earned runs allowed. Sweet!

My inclination is that the Nationals will continue to send Olsen out, not because they are patient, but because they do not know how to interpret the data in front of them. Olsen arrived in Miami as a bit of a steal for the Marlins, a sixth round draft pick who had developed into a decent left-handed power pitcher. A rare commodity at all levels, Olsen dominated in the minors and was made a full time starter as a rookie at 22. Since that rookie year, him strikeout rate steadily decreased, bottoming out last year. More balls are flying into play against the porous defense, and while balls aren’t necessarily leaving the park at an increased rate, they are certainly leading to more runs.

So why is Olsen getting the crap knocked out of him? Well, the Nationals didn’t do a very good job of reading between the lines. Scott Olsen has always been known a hot-head. He’s immature and flat out loses it when things do not go his way, both on and off the mound. At times, can be a weapon in his favor, but more often than not, it is his vice. Off the mound, he is liable to pull a Kevin Brown at any moment. On the mound, if things don’t go his way, he gets frustrated and throws harder. His professional inning totals have shown that he wasn’t over-burdened from a quantitative standpoint (128, 136, 101, 201, 183, 202), though the jump in innings moving from AA to the big club looks to have had an effect on his dreadful 2007 numbers. I like to call this the Saberhagen Dilemma, where a young pitcher is pitching so well and is so vital to that teams pennant chances, management will give him the ball deep into games to get the win. The residual effects are almost always noted the next season. Ten years from now, we may see a similar pattern to Olsen’s career. But back to Olsen’s style, while number of pitchers may not be wearing his arm out, his tendency to let his emotions and adrenaline push him has likely caused some minor damage to his arm. It would be up to the GM to infer that from the decreased velocity, strikeout rate, and mental makeup that Olsen is hiding an injury, or too macho to even look for one.

In the end, any decent baseball eye could have projected that Olsen would more closely pitch to his 2007 numbers this season, as opposed to his 2006 or 2008 performances. If the Nats can milk a few more decent starts out of him this season, well, good. The best course of action is probably to send the specialist in to see if there is anything that could be turning him into Barry Zito and shutting him down if there is.

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