In the M’s 4-3 win over the Rangers last night, John Jaso collected two crucial hits, reminding us that, yes, there is another catching option sitting on our bench. A catching option that is better than any we’ve had in four or five seasons, and definitely better than Miguel Olivo. I have been grumbling about Olivo here and there on the side for a while now, and Bryant alluded to the Olivo issue yesterday, but now I’m ready to come out with it. Only, Dave Cameron beat me to it.
Dave articulated Olivo’s complete ineptness in both halves of each inning—from his staggering number of passed balls to his 0.247 OBP since returning to the Mariners last season. His problems stem from a complete lack of plate discipline, and unfortunately for him (and for us), plate discipline statistics stabilize very quickly. Like, 50 plate appearances quickly. Though he’s only come to the dish 24 times this season, Wedge kindly gave us the chance to see him 507 times last season. It was not pretty.
Rewind for a second. In 2010, playing for the Rockies, Olivo put together a respectable catching season worth 3 WAR by Fangraphs’ standards. The problem was that this was first time he had ever posted a BABIP as high as .346, the first time he had ever posted a walk rate as high as 6.3%, and concordantly the first time he had ever posted an OBP as high as .315. Frankly, that’s sad, even for a catcher. He put together his best season in a few key areas, like batting average and OBP, yet still came in below league average. But more importantly, BABIP, batting average, and OBP aren’t even very predictive measures in small sample sizes.
Of the statistics mentioned above (which are, admittedly, somewhat tied together) walk rate becomes a predictable stat the quickest at 200 PA. In this case, “predictable” just means we should have weighted our expectations fractionally toward his new walk rate, but not a full 100% toward that 6.3% rate he posted in 2010. You know what becomes predictable more quickly? Plate discipline statistics. Like how often a player swings at pitches, and how often he misses those pitches. While his numbers improved slightly in 2010—for instance he “only” swung at 41% of pitches outside the zone instead of 45%–Olivo’s “improved” numbers were still frighteningly bad. He swung and missed 18% of the time, more than twice the league average swing-and-miss rate. He swung at 54% of ALL pitches. The league swings at about 45% of all pitches. His walk rate had definitely peaked, and it was only going to go down.
Olivo can mask some of his deficiencies with power. By mask, I mean fool the casual fan, but not us. With the Mariners, his numbers dove back toward his career averages, and there is no sign of bounce back…if you can call it “back”. But wait, what about that Jaso character? Let’s take a look at some of those stabilizing statistics more closely…Swing%
Even Brandon League did better than Olivo? Oh, wait, those are league averages. But seriously take a second to look at the discrepancies. Olivo is like one of those kids in that psych experiment who is not supposed to eat the marshmallow, but he just can’t help himself. Then he misses his mouth. Jaso, on the other hand, has the patience of a saint. Does it hurt his results? Perhaps, but when he swings, he hits the ball. His average doesn’t look like much—though I would be skeptical of his .268 BABIP—but his .341 OBP appears completely sustainable. I would find it heavenly trading Olivo’s .250ish OBP for a much sparklier .341. And it’s sitting right there on our bench.