Left-hander Garrett Olson has endured quite the chaotic offseason. The 25 year-old with just 165 major league innings to his name has swapped teams twice within a two-week period. First shipped to Chicago along with minor league ‘pen arm Henry Williamson for Felix Pie, Olson now heads across the country to Seattle with shortstop Ronny Cedeno in exchange for reliever/hopeful roation member Aaron Heilman (also twice-traded this winter, having been Mariner property for less than two months).
Assuming Olson will remain with the M’s (thus allowing his head to stop spinning), the Cal Poly product will compete for the fifth-starter’s role in Seattle. The chances of him winning that spot outright in spring training appear slim- he faces competition for Ryan Rowland-Smith, Brandon Morrow and Ryan Feierabend – but Olson still might see his fair share of rotation work. All clubs end up calling upon those 6th, 7th and 8th starters, and with Erik Bedard‘s health uncertain and Morrow facing a massive innings leap if he’s in the rotation from the get-go, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the 2005 supplemental first-rounder end up making a fair number of starts.
To this point in his major league career, Olson has struggled quite a bit. His ERA (6.87) overstates the extent of his issues (his FIP is a less-frightening 5.28), but the finesse southpaw has had difficulty finding the strike-zone on a consistent basis. While he exhibited solid control in the minors with 2.93 BB/9, Olson has issue nearly five free passes per nine innings in the big leagues. The 6-1, 200 pounder also displayed a penchant for missing bats down on the farm with a career K/9 mark of 8.91, but major league batters haven’t been fooled by his high-80’s heat or low 80’s slider and changeup (6.05 K/9).
As one might imagine, Olson’s mild fastball generates plenty of flyballs. His career GB% in the majors is 40.5%. Pitching in a venue that does not take kindly to such tendencies (Camden Yards has a 3-year HR park factor of 123, per the Bill James Handbook), Olson gave up plenty of tater’s with the O’s, surrendering 1.15 HR/9. If Olson had remained Baltimore property of had stayed put in Chicago (with an also-unfriendly 3 year HR park factor of 117), he would have been toiling in a stadium ill-suited to his pitching tendencies.
In Seattle, however, things look more promising. Safeco Field is one of the least threatening parks for hurlers, with a three-year run factor of 92 (suppressing offensive production by 8%). Those run-stifling tendencies extend to homers, as Safeco has diminished long-ball levels by 6% from 2006-2008 (94 park factor).
To boot, Olson will now pitch in front of what figures to be one of the absolute best defensive outfields in the game. Seattle’s new front office appears to have made defense a priority, having acquired gifted glove men Franklin Gutierrez and Endy Chavez in a 12-player bonanza that shipped J.J. Putz to Queens (Ronny Cedeno might also fit the “defense-first” bill, depending on what metrics one looks at: he rates well at 2nd base put poorly at shortstop per UZR, but John Dewan’s Plus/Minus system liked his work during his extended big league trial in ’06, giving him a +5 mark). Residing in front of rangy fly-catchers in a pitcher’s park, Olson looks like a more viable fantasy option than he did with either the Orioles of the Cubs.
While acquiring players like Gutierrez, Chavez and Olson will never garner front-page headlines, Jack Zduriencik and company have done a fantastic job of matching team personnel to the tendencies of Seattle’s home ballpark. Olson is certainly no star. But, he might just turn out to be a decent rotation candidate now that he’s pitching in a favorable environment, flanked by three outfielders capable of covering the gaps.
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