Was Scott Olsen really ever that good?

Bill Ladson reported today on his blog that if Nationals starting pitcher Scott Olsen is 100 percent healthy by Opening Day, he will have a spot in the rotation:

“If he is 100 percent healthy by Opening Day, Nationals left-hander Scott Olsen will be a lock in the rotation, according to manager Jim Riggleman.

Olsen is coming off shoulder surgery, and the Nationals are hoping that Olsen can be the pitcher he was with the Marlins — pitching 200 innings and having double-digit victories.”

This may be a ploy by the Nationals to try and help boost Scott Olsen’s confidence. I’ve seen first hand what confidence and the support of both the coaches and administration can do for talented players who have struggled, and in that sense, I feel the Nationals are making the right move. However this of course goes off of the assumption that Olsen has great talent that he can revive. This assumption is one that many of us have held, including me, based on his 2006 season when at the age of 22 Olsen went 12-10 with a 4.04 ERA and 166 strikeouts in 180 innings.

A closer look at his moderate success shows that he may have been more lucky then good, and that when he struggled, it may have been a more accurate representation of his true abilities. Outside of the 4.04 ERA he posted in 2006, and the 4.20 mark he posted in 2008, the rest of his stats paint the picture of an unsuccessfull lefty.

Olsen has posted FIP’s of 4.33, 5.33, 5.02, and 5.24 in the last four seasons, indicating that without the benefit of good fielding his ERA’s in the low fours would never have happened. This is in large part due to the fact that he forces so few ground balls. Olsen has posted ground ball percentages of 44%, 37%, 37%, 36%, in the last four seasons. To put that in perspective, had he thrown enough innings in 2009, his 36% would have been the fourth worst ground ball  percentage in the National League.

Olsen’s 22% line drive percentage would have ranked fourth worst in the National Leauge, and his fly ball percentage would have ranked in the top 10.

What does this all mean? Olsen gets hit a lot and he gets hit hard. His strikeout rate which used to rank at 8.27 per nine innings is dropping fast and his walk rate is still below average. Olsen’s real problem is that his best pitch is his slider. That’s the pitch he relies on to get batters to swing and miss and earn strike outs. However, his fastball, which only sits in the high 80’s is so ineffective that it was rated a -17.8 in 2009 which would have rated as the second worst fastball in the National League this year. The problem is that Olsen cant set up a solid strikeout pitch like his slider with a horrendous, flat, easy to bash fastball like the one he has.

How long will he last in the rotation? It really depends on Wang, Strasburg and Stammen. I just hope he proves me wrong.