After ripping another homer today and adding a walk, it feels like the right time to discuss Cubs slugger, Mike Olt. We know that, like today, he will always hit for power and take his walks, but what we don’t know is if his inability to make contact at a high rate will prevent him from realizing his potential and remaining in the Cubs lineup, especially this year as the infield crowding comes to a head.
Earlier this month, Brett examined a realistic hope for Mike Olt this year, determining that Olt could find success if he is able to bring his K rate closer to 30% (hey, that’s his Spring strikeout rate right now! … in 10 plate appearances) and his BABIP closer to a league average .300. Brett argued that those improvements – at the high end of what you could hope for – would produce a .240/.330/.440 slash line, which, together with expected above average defense at third, would provide enough value to secure a starting role early on in the season. To that end, I agree, but the discussion got me wondering ….
What happens to this version of Olt (or maybe something a little lesser, but still solid) after Kris Bryant arrives? Can he stick around in a starting role? If so, how good does Olt have to be and where would he play?
To answer these questions, let’s lay down some assumptions (again, living in a world where Kris Bryant is ready to come up, but Mike Olt is playing well enough to keep some kind of significant role):
1. Mike Olt won’t be playing third base.
Due to Olt’s history – and Bryant’s pedigree – we cannot reasonably expect enough offensive value from Olt to push Kris Bryant to a new position immediately, assuming the Cubs are at all interested in giving Bryant a full and fair shot at third base. Kris Bryant projects to have a lot more comparative value holding down third base than Olt does. So, ultimately, in this scenario, Olt would be on the move.
2. The only realistic option for Olt from there is left field.
Apart from third base, the remaining theoretical positions for Olt to cover include first base, right field, and left field. Given that first base is occupied by someone named Anthony Rizzo, and the Cubs have never indicated an interest in moving Soler, left field may be Olt’s only other hope.
3. Left field is currently occupied by a Coghlan/Denorfia platoon.
Chris Coghlan and Chris Denorfia have pronounced lefty/righty splits, making them ideal platoon candidates. And, aside from the potential for Arismendy Alcantara and Dexter Fowler to shake things up (i.e., both needing a spot in the everyday outfield), we have no reason not to believe that a Coghlan/Denorfia platoon is to be expected at the beginning of 2015.
Thus, In order for Mike Olt to be a starter for the 2015 Chicago Cubs, after Kris Bryant arrives, he will have to outperform the Coghlorfia platoon.
(For the purposes of this discussion, we will be looking only at offensive projections. Of course, defense will be a factor in this decision – Olt will be learning a new position, after all – but the net of Coghlan and Denorfia is below average in left field, and Olt is above average at third. So at worst, I’m calling it a wash.)
Could Olt realistically outperform that platoon? Well, let’s start by looking at what our combined Coghlan/Denorfia platoon might produce, offensively.
Assuming relative good health and a conservative platoon share, let’s give Coghlan 400 PAs and Denorfia 200. Over those 600 plate appearances, the Steamer and ZiPS projections would peg this platoon to produce the following offensive statistics:
Essentially, this is a player with a .252/.318/.376 slash line that doesn’t strike out too often, walks a fair amount, but provides very little pop – especially for a corner outfielder. This doesn’t exactly scream “want” – obligatory projections are just projections caveat – but the question is whether this platoon would be better than the alternative, Mike Olt.
Unfortunately for Olt, his projections aren’t too kind:
Given 600 plate appearances, the projections are not buying into any changes Olt may have made at the end of last season. Despite a strong BB% (9.9) and an equally strong ISO (.179), slashing .206/.284/.385 just isn’t going to cut it. Like Brett said, though, with some favorable BABIP regression and a higher ISO, it isn’t impossible to foresee a version of Olt that accomplishes the realistic hope scenario of .240/.330/.440, it’s just unlikely. Furthermore, the realistic hope scenario is some 100 points higher in OPS than the projections; it doesn’t look too good.
If Olt plays anywhere near the projections Steamer and ZiPS predict, he will not have a starting role on the 2015 Chicago Cubs after Kris Bryant arrives. Despite a relatively low bar projected in left field by the platoon of Coghlan and Denorfia, Olt would have to significantly outplay his projections to be valued as worthy replacement.
But this wouldn’t be an article at Bleacher Nation if there wasn’t a tad bit of optimism at the end, so here it is. Like Brett framed it, Olt is probably due for some positive regression in his BABIP, and his ISO and BB% have never been in question. Given the platoon’s questionable defense in left field, Olt may yet find himself in the starting lineup. If he can somehow achieve just a fraction of his “realistic hope” slash line, say .220/.320/.400, the Cubs may give Olt one last shot in 2015 – especially considering his youth, control and upside.