Out of [Left-handed] Options

Jay Yencich · February 12, 2010 at 3:40 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Quick update by Dave: After checking, I think both Vargas and Olson will get a fourth option year. The rule is laid out here, and essentially states that any player with less than five full professional seasons will qualify for a fourth option year. Vargas missed all of 2008 due to injury, so that year doesn’t count, meaning he’s headed into his fifth full pro season. Olson’s only full pro seasons are 2006-2009, so he’s also going into his 5th full year. By my reading of the rules, both should be option eligible this year. But I could be wrong.

After Bedard was brought back to possibly fill out a rotation that will have Ryan Rowland-Smith and Ian Snell following Felix! (here for another five years!) and Cliff Lee in the rotation, there were assorted debates arising over who is likely to be on the outside looking in as far as pitching spots go. We tried out a lot of arms in the fifth spot last season, and seeing as how many were new to the org, we didn’t really think much of it as we were using the I-5 shuttle to send them back and forth between Seattle and Tacoma. The assumption was that we’d continue to be able to do so until one or more of them broke away from the pack and proved themselves valuable enough to stick, loading up the Rainiers rotation in the process.

The reality is more complicated than that, if not a little bleaker as well. We knew that Snell was out of options because much was made of his return to triple-A this past season, which burned up the last of his years. What we didn’t realize at the time was that he wasn’t the only one to do so. RR-S, Jason Vargas, and Garrett Olson all used up their last options during the 2009 season.

For our purposes, it’s easy to pencil in Rowland-Smith and Snell as keepers. Hyphen has pitched well when healthy, enough for Bedard to suggest that he signed on to be the 3-B starter. The only major issue with Rowland-Smith is that last year was the first time he’d ever hit 150 or more innings, as he was bouncing back and forth between relief and starting early on in his career. Snell, while he didn’t show a great deal of improvement in his tenure with the M’s, remains more talented physically than most starters in the org and I don’t think that the org would cut bait on him after two+ months of not-good pitching.

That leaves us with Olson and Vargas. Olson has been the name that comes up most often when people seem to talk about leaving a guy out. It’s true that based off of the FanGraphs metrics, his fastball was an alarming 15.9 runs below average in his 80 innings with the team, but we also shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that his curveball, which added some depth last season was right up there with the best of them at 4.9 above and his change, at 3.6 above, was the second best on the team, behind Felix’s which of course has to be judged by its own standards.

What makes Olson peculiar in his MLB behavior is that he’s not good against left-handed batters. His splits are relatively close after last season, and what he gains in roughly a K every nine innings, he offsets with nearly a whole walk on top of that. Some parts of Olson’s game have never translated to the big leagues. If you take a look at his historical minor league splits, you’ll see that he only walked 1.35 left-handers per nine innings in Tacoma last season, which is slightly better than his career average. Another minor oddity is that, historically, he’s struck out more right-handers than left-handers, 8.88 to 7.58, and last year, while fewer in number and closer overall, was no exception.

Vargas presents different issues. His fastball, while slightly slower than Olson’s, has generally been a below-average, but not horrible offering every year he’s been in the majors except 2006 when he was with the Marlins. The slider and change have also improved to the point where they’re more or less average, while he pretty much shouldn’t throw his curve at all, and rarely does. As a sum, he won’t kill you in lower leverage roles.

Last year’s splits also established Vargas as more or less even versus both types of hitters, pedestrian, but competent. It wasn’t always this way, and in limited samples over the earlier part of his MLB career, there was a great deal more variance. This demonstrates that Vargas has managed to adapt to major league hitters, as he also showed little difference in his minor league career. Olson has not adapted, and may not survive because of that.

Derek’s earlier depth chart showed us a bullpen setup of Aardsma, League, Lowe, Kelley, French, Vargas, and Olson, with one of them heading elsewhere assuming that you run out a six-man bullpen. You can add Fister to that group as well as soon as Bedard comes back, leaving us to cut two from the group. Given that French has two options left and a fastball about as bad as Olson’s right now, you could probably option him in the hopes that he figures out how to use his newly improved stuff in Tacoma.

Fister, however, may be a different matter. Similar to Vargas, Fister’s offerings are about average, with the bonus of him not walking anyone. The fastball and the curve aren’t great, but the change is an effective pitch and makes him a solid option versus left-handers. While he does have every one of his options left, it would be difficult to make the case that Olson, whose heater is a legitimate suck pitch and could only hope to become “bad” going forward, provides more value than Fister might as he adapts.

Assuming the health of the group as a whole, which is always a tenuous bet, the return of Bedard might also mean the end of Olson’s career as a Mariner without significant improvement in his primary offering. He’ll have a month or two to try to change his fortunes.


24 Responses to “Out of [Left-handed] Options”

  1. Jay Yencich on February 12th, 2010 4:01 pm

    I’d also like to add, as a note, that Major League Baseball could come up with a less stupid way of checking these sorts of things, re: option years.

  2. Mike Snow on February 12th, 2010 4:12 pm

    Indeed, considering that Baker recently reported that both Olson and Vargas do have options left. Olson I can see, because assuming he didn’t get yoyoed after his contract was purchased in 2007, then I only count two options used up. I have a hard time understanding how Vargas would still have an option left, though.

  3. Jay Yencich on February 12th, 2010 4:24 pm

    Yeah, that’s not accurate.

    7/4/07 Designated RHP Scott Williamson for assignment and purchased the contract of LHP Garrett Olson from Triple-A Norfolk.
    7/19/07 Optioned LHP Garrett Olson to Triple-A Norfolk; Reinstated RHP Jon Leicester from the 60-day disabled list and was designated for assignment.
    8/10/07 Recalled LHP Garrett Olson from Triple-A Norfolk and optioned LHP Kurt Birkins to Triple-A Norfolk.
    8/23/07 Recalled RHP Jim Johnson from Triple-A Norfolk; Optioned LHP Garrett Olson to rookie level Bluefield.

    3/18/08 Optioned LHP Garrett Olson to Triple-A Norfolk; Reassigned LHP Craig Anderson, RHP Ryan Bukvich and RHP Roberto Novoa to Minor League camp.
    4/29/08 Recalled LHP Garrett Olson and RHP Bob McCrory from Triple-A Norfolk; Optioned SS Brandon Fahey to Triple-A Norfolk; Designated RHP Greg Aquino for assignment.
    8/20/08 Selected the contract of RHP Kam Mickolio from Triple-A Norfolk. Transferred RHP Matt Albers from the 15-day to the 60-day disabled list. Optioned LHP Garrett Olson to Triple-A Norfolk.

    5/14/06 Recalled LHP Renyel Pinto from Triple-A Albuquerque and optioned LHP Jason Vargas to Triple-A Albuquerque.
    7/6/06 Optioned LHP Renyel Pinto to Triple-A Albuquerque and recalled LHP Jason Vargas from Albuquerque.
    7/29/06 Optioned LHP Jason Vargas to Triple-A Albuquerque and recalled LHP Renyel Pinto from Triple-A.

    3/15/07 Optioned LHP Jason Vargas to Triple-A New Orleans; Optioned RHP Philip Humber, RHP Marcos Carvajal and OF Carlos Gomez to Double-A Binghamton; Reassigned C Jose A Reyes and OF Ruben Sierra to Minor League camp.
    7/2/07 Placed LHP Oliver Perez on the 15-day disabled list; Recalled LHP Jason Vargas from Triple-A New Orleans.
    7/4/07 Purchased the contract of C Sandy Alomar Jr. from Triple-A New Orleans and optioned LHP Jason Vargas to New Orleans; Transferred RHP Duaner Sanchez to the 60-day disabled list.

    Vargas didn’t use a year in ’08 because he was on the DL the whole season.

  4. CCW on February 12th, 2010 4:41 pm

    Seems to me that spending any time worrying about what is going to happen to the pitching staff when Bedard comes back is pointless. These are pitchers. At least one of them is going to get hurt and/or otherwise go up in flames between now and when Bedard comes back. Plus, the phrase “when Bedard comes back” is itself steeped in… uncertainty.

    Until Jack Z makes a trade that completely changes things, it seems obvious (to me, at least) that you go with Fister (and his groundball tendencies) as your #5 starter and Vargas and Olson (and their left-handedness) in the bullpen.

  5. Jay Yencich on February 12th, 2010 4:46 pm

    On further review, it’s still possible that they might have one option left if they apply under the “Balentien Rule”.

    Balentien, as you remember, was added to the 40-man roster after his first full season in 2004, and was optioned years 2005 through 2009. He qualified for the fourth because he hadn’t accumulated that much service time in full season ball to that point.

    Olson and Vargas both made it to the big leagues a little early after being drafted out of college, and have five years of time in the minors, four of them in full-season ball. Depending on the cutoffs there, they might still have an option left apiece, which would be really weird.

    Anyway, what’s clear is that they’ve both used three options.

  6. dchappelle on February 12th, 2010 6:08 pm

    The cutoff is 90 days of “service time” on a roster or 60 days if after the 60 days they go on the DL (not before). Keith Law’s summary. Given that Vargas only had 11 starts in 2004 and wasn’t injured. I’d guess it is fairly likely he has an option left. Actually just saw that Short-Season leagues don’t count either, so Vargas definitely qualifies.

    Garret Olson signed on June 12th, 2005. His first season ended on Sept. 5th. So he only had 85 days on the roster that year.

    So it seems both qualify for the “extra” option.

  7. Faceplant on February 12th, 2010 6:17 pm

    I was under the impression that the time you accrue on a short season roster counts toward your 90 days. Say you spend 60 days on a short season roster, and 30 days in a full season league. That would count as a full season, correct?

  8. dchappelle on February 12th, 2010 6:38 pm

    Ah, you’re right, but still Vargas signed on July 7, 2004, Greensboro season ended on September 6, 2004 = 61 days, so 2004 doesn’t count as a season.

  9. Mike Snow on February 12th, 2010 7:07 pm

    That helps immensely.

  10. smb on February 12th, 2010 8:35 pm

    Why not find a way to dump Olson? Surely we could find another replacement level-ish pitcher of similar makeup but higher upside for about the same price, couldn’t we? I am just struggling with seeing the team use a roster spot for him when I have this overwhelming expectation that he will greatly underwhelm. I think anyone who’s expecting him to pitch well with the M’s in 2010 is going to be disappointed.

  11. Jay Yencich on February 13th, 2010 1:06 am

    That’s the thing with Olson. His offspeed pitches are legitimately good, which makes him enticing, but his fastball is so very bad that it makes you question whether he’s worth the trouble. He hasn’t been the past few seasons, but in general, pitchers tend to figure out their fastball sooner than they figure out anything else, which is part of what makes him unusual.

  12. The Ancient Mariner on February 13th, 2010 6:24 am

    Maybe teach him a cutter?

  13. henryv on February 13th, 2010 10:46 am

    It seems like the M’s are maxed out in terms of their number of AAAA pitchers. Basically, we have about 6 pitchers than I can think of which are acceptable #5 starters/mop-up bullpen guys. However, you only need 2 or 3 of those.

    Is it likely that Feieraband/Fister/Petit/French/Olson/Vargas ends up being involved in a trade with Lopez? Surely, there are teams out there looking for a 4/5 for virtually nothing. And almost every player there we have a good idea of what they are, and we don’t really need that much depth of “meh” pitching.

    Is this just setting up to be a series of DFA’d pitchers, or is there something we can do with this glut?

  14. gwangung on February 13th, 2010 11:35 am

    Seems to me that AAAA pitching is what you DON’T worry about. Essence du replacement player.

  15. edclayton on February 13th, 2010 11:44 am

    I seem to remember Olson being fairly effective out of the bullpen last year. Does anybody have his splits as a starter vs reliever?

  16. Jack Howland on February 13th, 2010 12:06 pm

    Does anybody have his splits as a starter vs reliever?

    Baseball-refererece.com has all of that information listed on the player’s page under splits.

  17. DMZ on February 13th, 2010 12:08 pm

    You couldn’t just look them up yourself?

  18. tmac9311 on February 13th, 2010 12:43 pm

    All i know if with are pitching depth, I’m hoping we can end up winning the playoff in MLB and AAA. The Rainers look like they should be a great deal of fun to watch this year, regardless of what 2 pitchers they get.

  19. Faceplant on February 13th, 2010 2:22 pm

    The Rainers look like they should be a great deal of fun to watch this year, regardless of what 2 pitchers they get.

    I disagree. The Rainiers are always fun to watch. Except for Oswaldo Navarro. He was never fun to watch.

  20. Jay Yencich on February 13th, 2010 2:49 pm

    Except for Oswaldo Navarro. He was never fun to watch.

    The Aquasox opening ceremonies where he had to introduce himself were fun, but more to listen to than to watch.

  21. terry on February 13th, 2010 5:30 pm

    You couldn’t just look them up yourself?

    Maybe he doesn’t have internet access? 😛

  22. CCW on February 13th, 2010 8:11 pm

    I think this post needs a re-do.

  23. thehemogoblin on February 13th, 2010 9:29 pm

    I think this post needs a re-do.

    I think this post needs a hug. Aren’t we glad that Ken Griffey, Jr. and Mike Sweeney are around?

  24. Breadbaker on February 14th, 2010 12:16 am

    Speaking of fun to watch, the Cammy four-homer game is on MLBTV right now. They can replay that as much as they want; it will never go old.

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