Is There More to Mike Olt than Just Home Runs?
Mike Olt leads all National League third basemen in home runs. He has nine.
Mike Olt currently has a slash line of .176/.254/.451.
Mike Olt's isolated power (ISO) is .275, among the highest of any player in the National League with at least 100 plate appearances.
Mike Olt has 18 total hits in 114 plate appearances, has struck out in 31.6% of his at-bats, and has a nERD (number of runs contributed over a league-average per game) of -0.24 so far this year (ranking him 210th in all of baseball).
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The Chicago Cubs' third baseman has had a weird 2014 campaign. After arriving in the off-season as part of the Matt Garza-to-Texas trade, he's provided lots of power at the plate, tied for fifth in home runs in the NL. But his high strikeout rate and inability to put the ball in play so far this season has made him a frustrating player, both for fantasy owners and Cubs fans.
It's great that Olt is hitting the ball out of the park when he makes contact. And, at just 25 years old, there's still plenty of room for growth. But there is obviously still a lot of work to do, especially against right-handed pitching.
So why do Mike Olt's power numbers look so good, but the rest of his numbers look so bad?
Fly Balls, Line Drives and Bad Luck
With the obvious small sample size caveats in place, Olt is hitting .145/.211/.333 with an on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) of .544 in 76 plate appearances against right-handers this year. Against left-handers, it's .242/.342/.697 for an OPS of 1.039 in just 38 plate appearances. Five of his nine home runs are against lefties, despite having 38 fewer plate appearances against them compared to righties.
In addition to the strikeouts, when Olt's made contact, he's generated a fly ball in 52.2% (FB%) of his plate appearances so far this season. Now, it's usually a good thing for a homer run hitter to keep the ball off the ground, but 52.2% is way too high, mainly because it's coming at the expense of his line-drive rate (LD%), which is just 9%. By comparison, the National League's other top home run hitters have batted-ball percentages that look like this:
Now, of course it's unfair to compare Olt to these other, more established sluggers. But what I'm trying to show is that, if Olt wants to even out his numbers a bit, increase his batting average and improve on his very-low batting average on balls in play (BABIP) of .155, he's going to have to turn some of those fly balls into line drives and get a little luckier on the balls he hits on the ground.
Olt's early-season production reminds one of noted slugger and strikeout accumulator Dave Kingman. Kingman played for seven teams from 1971 to 1986, and clubbed 442 home runs during his career with a .242 ISO, generating 20.4 fWAR (FanGraph's Wins Above Replacement). But he also hit just .236 with an on-base percentage of .302, and struck out in 24.4% of his career plate appearances.
Obviously, Olt's strikeout rate of 31.6% is worse than Kingman's career mark, but Olt also plays in an era where strikeouts are more accepted, especially if they're accompanied by a plethora of home runs. Kingman was kind of a one-trick pony player offensively, and probably is not the first guy Cubs' fans would want Olt to emulate.
Mike Olt's Future
In this new era of baseball in which pitchers dominate and power is at a premium, a young, 25-year-old third baseman who can hit the ball out of the ballpark is a nice toy to have. And the more Olt plays and accumulates experience and at-bats, the more likely he is to normalize his slash line and make fewer outs. Olt should get that opportunity with Chicago, given that they are on their way to another losing season. It would be in the Cubs' best interests to play him as much as possible while the team remains uncompetitive.
For fantasy owners, especially those in dynasty leagues, Olt is definitely a guy to have on your bench and start against left-handers. And if you are depending on him to be your every day man at the hot corner, hopefully you have a lineup that boasts lots of guys who are strong in batting average and on-base percentage and don't strike out much.
Given the relatively weak crop of third basemen in the National League, Olt has All-Star potential. That is, if he can de-Kingmanize himself and even out his game.