Hey, what do you want me to say? So long as the Cubs prioritize getting under the Luxury Tax to reset their penalties ahead of the 2020 season (and, ideally, the 2021 offseason), Minor League deals are going to be their thing.
And they just did another one, today:
Per source, LHP Tyler Olson has agreed to a minor league deal with the Cubs. He’ll earn $650K if he makes the team.
— Mark Feinsand (@Feinsand) January 17, 2020
Olson, 30, was originally drafted in the 7th round by the Mariners back in 2013. Since then, he’s bounced around a lot, going from the Mariners (2013-2015) to the Dodgers (2015-2016), to the Royals (2016), to the Indians (2016), where he’s been until he hit free agency this winter. Indeed, Cleveland is the only place he’s really gotten any significant big league time throughout his career (though he still spent parts of 2017, 2018, and 2019 in the Minors).
It’s tough to say exactly what the Cubs see in Olson based on his results last season (4.40 ERA, 4.42 FIP through 30.2 IP), but he did have a bit of a moment with the Indians back in 2017, when he allowed no earned runs in 20.0 innings pitched (0.00 ERA, 2.41 FIP). If I had to guess though, I’d say the Cubs are banking on his apparent ability to successfully manage contact (because it sure isn’t his control: 11.1% career walk rate).
During that brief, but successful 2017 season, Olson got by on the strength of a .186 batting average against, fueled primarily by a tiny .250 BABIP. But although that BABIP was perhaps unsustainably low, he did earn some of it with an extremely impressive 9.6% hard-hit rate (paired with a fantastic 52.9% ground ball rate). However, his numbers have since come back down to earth over the past two years ….
Then again, both are still pretty impressive, particularly the 31.9% hard-hit rate in 2019, when league average for all pitchers was roughly 38.0%.
Also working in Olson’s favor is a surprisingly wide arsenal, which features a … very slow 87.1 MPH fastball, which he throws nearly half the time (44.8%), plus a slider (20.4%), curveball (21.5%), and change-up (13.3%). Maybe the Cubs like the options. Maybe they see a path to improvement by eliminating a weaker pitch or two. I suppose we’ll see when he hits the rubber this spring.
In the meantime, this is another low-risk (likely low-reward) deal for a Cubs bullpen that is in desperate need of … pitchers. Clearly, the Cubs haven’t added to this group in a particularly convincing way yet this offseason, but at least they’re throwing a whole lot at the wall to see what sticks. That might be the only path available for now.
UPDATE: It’s been brought to my attention that Olson has been much better against lefties (.279 wOBA) than righties (.367 wOBA) throughout his career, but with the new three-batter minimum rule in effect for 2020 … that is not particularly promising. In fact, that’s just generally pretty bad. You’ll obviously still need lefties to get lefties out – or to face lineups with a couple lefties in a row/near the end of an inning – but the risk in actually carrying a guy who can only get lefties out in this new-rule era is high.