It’s Time For Miguel Olivo To Be Accountable
Eric Wedge is big on accountability, and last night, he benched Brendan Ryan for an issue that he chalked up to that very reason. We could debate the merits of this kind of public-punishment leadership style, but that’s probably another post. The reality is that Wedge has made it clear that if you screw up, your spot in the line-up is in danger.
Unless, of course, your name is Miguel Olivo.
The Mariners have played 53 innings of baseball so far this year – Olivo has been behind the plate for every single one of them. John Jaso is the only position player who has not yet seen any action in 2012, and it’s pretty clear that Wedge intends on playing Olivo just as frequently as he did last year, when Olivo made 120 starts and caught 1,064 of the team’s 1,433 innings. And it apparently doesn’t matter how many times Olivo fails to perform the basic fundamental tasks asked of a catcher – his playing time is just not in jeopardy.
Take last night, for instance. In the second inning, Adrian Beltre led off with a double to put a man in scoring position. Blake Beavan then got Michael Young to bounce back to the mound, and they were able to get Beltre out at third. Young was able to advance to second on the play, however, so the situation remained the same – man in scoring position, one out.
Then, on the 1-1 pitch to Nelson Cruz, Beavan threw this 75 MPH curveball:
The pitch was down in the zone and a little bit outside, but it was a fairly routine stop for any Major League catcher. Olivo stabbed at the ball rather than dropping to his knees (catching 101), and the ball got away from him, so Young moved up to third base. He would then score on an infield single by David Murphy, and that would end up being the only run in the game. It’s not fair to say that Olivo’s misplay was the only reason they lost, but it directly led to the only run the team allowed all night, and it is fair to say that Olivo has no excuse for not stopping that pitch.
You know, except for the fact that he’s apparently unwilling or unable to become a reasonably passable defensive catcher.
Miguel Olivo broke in to the Major Leagues in 2003, starting 98 games for the White Sox as a rookie. Despite being just a part-time player, he still managed to allow 8 passed balls, third most in the American League. Since then, here’s his season passed ball totals and where they rank in his respective league:
2004 – 13 (2nd)
2005 – 7 (in only 690 IP, dumped by Mariners at midseason)
2006 – 10 (1st)
2007 – 16 (1st)
2008 – 4 (injured, only started 56 games)
2009 – 10 (1st)
2010 – 10 (1st)
2011 – 11 (3rd)
Last year was the first time in five years that Olivo had been healthy and not led his league in passed balls. He was eclipsed only by Toronto rookie J.P. Arencibia and Boston’s Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who was tasked with catching knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, so in reality, his PB total requires a large asterisk.
And, as we saw last night, a lot of easily stopped balls end up getting classified as wild pitches by the official scorer, and Olivo doesn’t take any kind of official hit for those. You will probably not be shocked to learn that, in addition to the official passed balls, the Mariners threw 68 “wild pitches”, fifth most in baseball. It’s impossible to know just how many of those wild pitches were actually balls that Olivo should have stopped, but you can bet there were more than a couple.
Catching the ball is the basic fundamental skill required of the position – it’s why they’re called “Catchers”. Miguel Olivo is absolutely terrible at this, and has been for a very long time. He’s the active leader in passed balls by a mile – he has 92, the next highest is Ramon Hernandez at 78 – and he has almost twice as many as the #4 guy on the list. That guy, Yadier Molina, has almost exactly the same number of career innings behind the dish, coming out at 7,715 compared to Olivo’s 7,700. Molina has allowed 48 passed balls. Now, he’s the best defensive catcher in the sport, but we’re talking 44 extra passed balls, or about six extra PB every single year. And again, this doesn’t count the ones that aren’t called passed balls like the pitch Beavan threw last night.
If Eric Wedge is going to bluster about “playing the game the right way” and “being accountable”, Miguel Olivo should be on the bench today. In reality, he should be on the bench most days, as he is a disaster of a baseball player, and has no future with this organization. Since signing back with the M’s, he’s posted a .247 on base percentage. Two-Forty-Seven. He refuses to stop chasing pitches out of the zone, and is the easiest out in the line-up every single night. He’s abysmal defensively. He’s 33, and thankfully in the last year of his contract. That he’s still playing every day for a rebuilding team with a legitimate alternative (or two, if you think Montero is ready to catch occasionally) is a legitimate problem, and Wedge’s love affair with Olivo is not only costing the team wins but undermines this entire concept of accountability.
Miguel Olivo is perhaps of the least fundamentally sound player in the sport. He either cannot or will not improve on his obvious flaws. And yet, he plays. Every single day.
It’s ridiculous and it should come to an end. If Jack needs to release Olivo in order to get him out of the line-up, so be it. Olivo brings nothing to the table that can’t be easily replaced, and the team would be better off with him letting balls roll to the backstop in another uniform.