Position Roundtables: Starting Catcher
We’re launching our 2005 season preview today, but taking a slightly different approach that we think you all will enjoy. Over the next 50 days before Opening Day, we’re going to writeup a roster spot every other day with the thoughts and feelings of myself, Jeff, Peter, Jason, and Derek on the players who are likely to fill that role with the club. Consider it 25 mini roundtables. We’ll do a position every other day from now until April 3rd. We launch today with the Starting Catcher. Enjoy.
Dave: Starting Catcher: Miguel Olivo
The Mariners acquired Olivo in the Freddy Garcia trade to be the catcher of the present and future, but his poor performance in the second half of 2004 has left the starting job up for grabs. Olivo’s track record is all across the board in both the minors and the majors, but he’s shown flashes of ability and the potential for league average production is there. He’ll need to cut down on the passed balls in order to insure his playing time, and if he struggles, he could easily end up as Dan Wilson’s caddy. The range of Olivo’s possible production is vast, and his performance is one of the main uncertainties heading into 2005. Dave’s Projection for 2005 Olivo: .270/.320/.420, 350 AB.
Jason: I like Olivo a great deal; I was probably more excited that he was in the Garica trade than I was about Jeremy Reed. His .233 average last season makes his overall line look ugly, but there’s reason for optimism — better than 45% of his hits went for extra bases. Offensively, he needs to get back to drawing walks like he did in the minors, where he was right around the “10% of at-bats” mark, and the rest of his offensive game will come. He certainly runs well for a catcher, too.
Defensively, he seems to have a strong arm and quick enough release that the running game isn’t a problem. Obviously he needs to cut down on the passed balls (nine in 49 games after the trade), but he seems like a good enough athlete that this shouldn’t be an issue with work. Didn’t he hang out with Roger Hansen this winter to work on his defense?
I think Dave’s projection is pretty good, but I’ll go out on a limb and say he manages 400 at-bats under a new manager who perhaps isn’t as tied to Dan Wilson. I also think he’ll hit for a bit more pop… put me down for .260/.320/.440 and 15 homers.
Jeff: Like Jason, I’m bullish on Olivo. With JMB summarizing the “pro” side aptly, though, it’s devil’s advocate time for yours truly: here’s why I’m a little worried.
Olivo hit .233 last year, but hit just .200/.260/.387 after coming over in the trade. It was just 160 at-bats, but the drop-off of more than 100 points of slugging makes me wonder about his right-handed bat in Safeco. He’s just 26 years old, should improve, and I hope he will — but he’s just two years young than Ben Davis. The next year or two will be key if he’s going to establish himself as the answer at catcher.
That said, I’ll point that my compadres’ respective projections are just a hair’s breadth more optimistic than the PECOTA system’s forecast for Olivo (.247/.308/.418 in 307 at bats). I for one am hoping for the great leap forward.
Jason: That slugging dropoff was all batting average, though — after the trade, a full 50% of his hits (16 of 32) were of the extra-base variety. And if we want to talk even smaller samples, 10 of his 21 hits at Safeco last season (93 at-bats) were extra base hits.
Dave: Jason’s right on this one. I wouldn’t really be concerned with Olivo’s power. The legitimate concern is whether he’s going to make enough good contact for his power to be useful. His track record is all over the board. He hit .305 in Modesto in 99, then just .282 repeating the league the next year, than .259 in Double-A in 2001, but then hit .306 repeating the league in 2002. Then he hit .237 with the White Sox as a rookie, .270 with them in his second year, and .200 with us after the trade.
Basically, he could hit anywhere from .200 to .300.
Jeff: Agreed on both counts: power v. contact and Olivo’s inconsistency. An additional point that might be worth noting, though, is the dramatic platoon splits he’s shown. Even when he struggled in 2004, Olivo was able to brutalize left-handed pitchers. This is true over the past three years as well: in almost 650 total at bats, his OPS against lefties is .917, compared to .594 against right-handers.
When watching Olivo, it seems like he really struggles with breaking stuff from right-handed pitchers. I seem to see him bailing out a lot, which undoubtedly leads to a lot of those strikeouts and failed attempts at contact. It’s certainly too early to start talking about him being a platoon player, but I’ll be disappointed if the Mariners face a southpaw and he isn’t starting.
Dave: Small sample platoon splits can be misleading, but I think Jeff’s right in his analysis of Olivo’s past approach. The Olivo I’ve watched, both in Chicago and Seattle, has been a pure fastball hitter who really struggles with offspeed stuff. After the trade, he was a classic mistake hitter, only hitting pitches where the ball was in his wheelhouse, but desperately flailing at everything anyways. It will be interesting to see if his approach is different at all in 2005, as it’s hard to believe that’s the style he used to get himself to the major leagues in the first place, so the talent to be a less hackier version of his 2004 while retaining the power should be in there somewhere.
Peter: Olivo for career: 4.12 PA/K
Olivo ’04 w/Chicago: 5.38 PA/K
Olivo ’04 w/Seattle: 3.16 PA/K
So while Olivo went all Tasmanian Devil on us swinging
at anything and everything like it was a nervous tick
once he arrived in Seattle, he had been relatively
patient (for him) previously, and we can see his
season totals reverting to the mean.
On the other hand, Olivo had the mother of all funks
last September. Why? Did he mentally check out once
the M’s were done in August? Did aliens take over his
body? Did Melvin and Molitor tinker with his swing? Is
his vision okay? Did Dan Wilson defecate on Olivo’s
Joe Boo shrine?
Between September 4 and 28, he collected one hit (an
infield single) and one walk in 39 at bats. He struck
out 22 times, at least once in each game he started.
In 4 of those 11 games, he struck out 3 times.
According to ESPN’s game logs, 19 of those 22
strikeouts were of the swing-and-miss variety. (For
those scoring at home, Zito, Dotel and Hudson of
Oakland performed the amazing feat of freezing Olivo.)
Olivo’s ability to become a starter for any major
league team depends upon his discernment at the plate.
For his career, his OBP/SLG once he falls behind in
the count is .240/.326. Not a bad scouting report for
the opposition: Feed him a first pitch strike and then
you’ve got a better than 3-in-4 chance of setting him
down. But after a first-pitch ball, his numbers are
Perhaps Mike Hargrove and Don Baylor can make some
kind of positive influence on Olivo’s approach at the
plate. I certainly hope so.