Miguel Olivo is having a nice season at the plate (if you believe in defensive metrics for catchers, he’s also having a good season behind the plate, but this post is about offense) for the Colorado Rockies. Leaving aside the Chris Iannetta issue (sigh), Olivo has given the Rockies slightly-above average offense (101 wRC+), very good for a catcher. In a surprising twist, Olivo, well-known for his hacktastic ways, has slightly decreased his swings at pitches outside of the zone in 2010 (although he’s still one of the most free-swinging hitters in baseball), which partly explains his best seasonal walk rate since he became a regular player. While a .323 on-base percentage is nothing to get excited about for most players, for Olivo, it is not only the best on-base percentage of any season in his career, but it’s the only time he’s ever had a yearly OBP over .300.
Still, while a .335 wOBA is good for a catcher, even in Colorado, a quick glance at Olivo’s monthly wOBAs through July (.398, .403, .352, .351) might lead one to wonder how it got so low. Well, in 58 August plate appearances, Olivo hit .140/.155/.158 for a .141 wOBA. That’s simply a stunning line. After walking more than ever before through July, Olivo walked once in August, and that was an intentional walk. His BABIP for August was .211, which probably reflects some bad luck, although he hit very few line drives (7.9%) during the month. He hit a good deal of fly balls, but none of them went out of the park for home runs during August.
To be clear — it would even more foolish to cherry pick one month of Olivo’s season to represent his true talent or to dismiss it as an “outlier” as it would to do so for a whole season. One has to take the season as a whole into account and properly weight it, regress it, etc. It is simply stunning how bad the one month was, so bad that it can take the seasonal line down that far. Olivo has had some months almost this bad this before — a .234 wOBA in July 2009 and a .201 wOBA in July 2008, to give just two examples. All players have bad stretches, naturally. One shouldn’t attribute “consistency” or its opposite as a particular “skill” to any player. Understanding that performance will fluctuate around a players true talent is just part of accepting randomness.
While Olivo’s August performance in-itself should not be singled out as a reason to worry, it did alter his 2010 line in a way that does matter. It turns Olivo’s 2010 season from a very good offensive performance to one that is slightly above-average. It makes the Rockies decisions about playing time 2011 a bit more interesting given Olivo’s club option and Iannetta’s contract.