When you live life like a hated professional wrestler, “return to form” could mean a number of things — Scott Olsen has flipped off fans, taken haymakers from Randy Messenger and kicked at police while they attempted to taser him. But there was a time when he was a promising pitcher, too. Using a nasty fastball-slider-changeup mix, the ’06 Olsen whiffed 166 batters in 180 innings and finished 9th in Rookie of the Year voting, a darling of the next year’s fantasy drafts.
The black eye from the Messenger was a sign of the pummeling to come: His home run rate exploded (1.1 to 1.5/9) in ’07 and his K tendencies took a nosedive. He almost became a useful if boring fantasy pitcher again in ’08, posting a 4.20 ERA in 201 innings, but injuries diminished his velocity and thus his usefulness in the K category. Scott Olsen became the bro you invite over once a year for poker only to ban him indefinitely when he flips the table and punches the wall again.
But us fantasy GMs forgive bro tantrums. Hell, it’s just poker — what’s the harm in inviting dude once a year? From what we’ve seen from Olsen so far, this might be the year I buy a case of O’Douls and give him another shot.
Olsen’s raw ratios are pedestrian in four starts this year (4.35 ERA, 1.50 WHIP), but there’s plenty to like in the periphery. If you check out his pitch trajectory from year to year, you’ll notice the implosion began when he traded his changeup for more fastballs and sliders in ’07. He took a better-mixed approach in ’08 but had lost significant oomph on his fastball, its average velocity down to 87.8 mph from a peak of 90.9 in ’06, leading to a huge dip in strikeouts. He was then out for most of the ’09 season with a torn labrum, which may explain the dip in speed.
This year, Olsen’s already averaging a full 1-2 mph higher on his three-pitch repertoire, which he’s mixing up at the same level as his successful rookie-year campaign, sporting a solid 18/8 K/BB ratio in 20.2 IP. It’s early, but those are significant improvements. Elsewhere, his WHIP’s soured by .348 BABIP that is due for regression, and he’s sporting a 3.96 xFIP. And he’s still only 26, pitching in a rotation where league-average is ace-level, thus facing little competition.
Barring an unprovoked drunken attack on the foam heads of our founding fathers, I’m convinced Olsen is worth a pickup in NL-Only leagues. Mixed leaguers will want to monitor his next couple starts, but he could be a decent spot starter right away, especially against offenses who can’t hit southpaws.