Sunday, December 12, 2010

Scott Olsen

The Pirates finalized a one-year deal with free agent LHP Scott Olsen on Friday. Olsen gets a $450K salary next season with a $4M club option for 2012 or a $100K buyout. He can also can pick $3M in bonuses based on starts next year and $1M more in 2012, if he's still here.

Olsen, 26, was born January 12th, 1984, in Kalamazoo, Michigan. He attended Crystal Lake South (Illinois) High School, where he was all-conference in baseball. He was drafted 173rd overall in the sixth round of the 2002 draft by the Florida Marlins.

He wasn't highly touted when he was drafted, but Florida's staff coached him up into a top prospect. Baseball America rated him the 67th best prospect in baseball pre-2004, the 38th best prospect pre-2005 season and 34th best pre-2006.

Olsen debuted in the show in 2005 with the Fish when he was called up from AA Carolina to replace an injured Josh Beckett. He went 1-1 in five starts, with a 3.98 ERA, but gave a sign of things to come when he was placed on the DL himself with an elbow injury.

The lefty started 2006 in AAA Albuquerque, but after one outing was back in the bigs. Olsen went 12-10 with a 4.04 ERA. He and fellow rookies Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco and Anibal Sanchez got in the record books when the 2006 Marlins became the first club in MLB history to sport four rookie pitchers with ten or more wins in one season.

With 166 strikeouts, Olsen set the Fish single-season rookie strikeout record. His 11-strikeout performance against Pittsburgh was the most by any Marlin pitcher in 2006. Olsen came in ninth in the Rookie of the Year balloting.

He also began to wear his Florida welcome thin. He was given a black eye by teammate Randy Messenger, and later in the season, manager Joe Girardi grabbed him and confronted him.

Television cameras caught Miguel Cabrera going after Olsen as the pitcher walked past him in the dugout after they had exchanged words on the field following a Cabrera boot. The pair had to be separated by teammates.

He screamed at the Phils' Chase Utley for calling time just before a pitch. Olsen was a fight waiting to happen.

Olsen finished the 2007 season with a 10-15 record and a 5.81 ERA. His .384 opponent OBP was the highest in the majors, as was his .315 BAA and .504 opponent slugging percentage. It was the first major blip in his career.

His escapades continued. Olsen was fined for making an obscene gesture towards fans during a game in Milwaukee in June.

In July, Olsen had a confrontation with teammate Sergio Mitre in the tunnel heading toward the team clubhouse. He ripped off Mitre's jersey and the pair got into a wrestling match until the other Fish broke up the bout. Olsen got a two-game suspension, but didn't miss a start.

Then he was arrested by police in Florida for speeding a few days later. He tried to outrun the cops, and ended up being tasered and charged with DUI, resisting arrest with violence, and fleeing and eluding a police office.

Olsen went 8-11 with a 4.20 ERA in 33 starts in 2008, a nice comeback after a miserable 2007 season, and managed to keep his nose clean, too. His 30 wins over the 2006-08 seasons ranked him second among pitchers 24 or younger, trailing only Tampa Bay's Scott Kazmir, who won 35 times over the span. He was also a workhorse, piling up over 550 innings in those three years.

But his time in Florda was at an end. On November 11th, he was traded with Josh Willingham and sent to the Washington Nationals for second baseman Emilio Bonifacio and a pair of minor leaguers.

Olsen was a fish out of water in a Washington uniform, going 2-4 with a 6.03 ERA in 2009. Shoulder tendinitis forced Olsen to miss about a month and a half of the season, from May 16th to June 29th.

He pitched only three more times after his return before being diagnosed with a small left labrum tear following a mid-July start. Surgery to repair the labrum was performed on July 23rd, and finished him for the season.

Olsen was non-tendered by the Washington Nationals, making him a free agent. But he re-signed with the Nats for a one year, $1M deal with bonuses that could increase the take home to almost $4M based on starts. Sound familiar?

In 2010 Olsen started in the minors as one of the Nats last camp cuts, but after one class AAA start was called up. In early May he took a no-hitter into the eighth inning against the Atlanta Braves. That game was part of a five game streak where Olsen went 2-0 with a 1.11 ERA, and ran together 20 scoreless innings.

But on May 21st, he ended up on the DL. Olsen had been experiencing discomfort but a MRI exam revealed no structural damage. He ended up spending two different stints on the DL with left shoulder stiffness and inflammation, not a good thing for a guy recovering from surgery

He was 4-8 with a 5.56 ERA in 17 games (15 starts) for Washington. After a miserable outing at the start of September, he was moved to the bullpen, both as a matter of performance and to save a pocketful of cash, as each start was worth $100K in bonus money.

It saved the Nats some cash but didn't do much for Olsen. He pitched just twice more after it was found that he couldn't loosen up quickly enough to work effectively out of the pen. (And yes, we assume that if GW could find that out, so could the FO).

On November 6th, Olsen became a free agent in November after being outrighted off the Nationals' roster and joined the Bucs a month later.

In parts of six seasons, Olsen is 37-49 with a 4.85 ERA in 130 games, of which 127 were starts. He's struck out 528 (6.6/9) and walked 239 (3.6/9) in 723 innings. He was durable while with the Marlins, making at least 31 starts each year from 2006-08, but been one hurting cowboy the past two years with the Nats, averaging just 72 innings per season. And his behavior has been fine for the past three years.

He throws a 90 MPH fastball (92 toward the end of season, which was 2006 velocity for him), slider and change. The heater's not his main pitch; his off-speed stuff is his bread and butter. Olsen is a flyball pitcher, and he's a lot tougher on lefties than righties.

As for the inevitable career comparisons to Zach Duke: Olsen's ERA is higher, 4.85 to 4.57. In fact, the split between the FIPs (Fielding Independent Pitching) is much more dramatic, 4.89 to 4.33 in Duke's favor.

Olsen walks a batter more per game, but gets a couple more punchouts, which is a handy tool to have in the box. Olsen also gives up a hit less per game; his BAA is .276, Duke's is .300. Olsen, though, is brutal with the longball; he gives up 1.4/9, compared to Duke's 0.9/9.

So hey, you have the perfect statistical breakdown of two back-end pitchers. Here's Bill James' projection for Olsen in 2011: 4-6 record, 4.81 ERA, 16 starts, 88 innings.

So with that as his baseline, what do the Pirates have to lose? If his shoulder is knit back together and he returns to his 2008 form, the Pirates have a steal. If not, they're paying pre-arb money for a guy with six full MLB seasons.

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