The 2017 was full of surprises. There was a 22-game winning streak, Jose Ramirez‘s emergence as an MVP candidate, and Trevor Bauer‘s rise to prominence, just to name a few. But perhaps most surprising of all was the discovery of Tyler Olson in the Indians’ bullpen.
Heading into the 2017 season, the Indians signed veteran left-handed reliever Boone Logan. As a 12-year veteran experienced in the role of left-handed specialist, Logan was expected to be the Tribe’s LOOGY (left-handed one out guy). For the first half of the season things went as planned. Then in late July a lat injury derailed his season, sending him to the 60-day DL. Left with few options, the Indians called up Tyler Olson from Triple-A Columbus. The rest was history.
Can Tyler Olson Repeat his 2017 Success?
For those who may not be aware, Olson spent most of his young career wallowing in the minors, first with Seattle and then the Yankees. With all of 12 big league appearances to his credit, expectations were low. Luckily for the Indians, Olson delivered in a big way and far exceed all expectations. In the end, he rose from the option of last resort to a reliable high leverage situation lefty.
In 30 regular season appearances following the injury to Boone Logan, Olson worked 20 innings striking out 18 and walking only 6 batters. That equates 3 strikeouts per walk and 8 strikeouts per 9 innings of work. Not only that, but Olson rarely allowed runners to cross the plate. In 2017, Olson inherited 17 runners and only allowed two to score. Additionally, he was personally responsible for zero earned runs. With his 0.00 ERA, it may be more appropriate to refer to Tyler Olson as Tyler 0.00lson at this point. In three brief playoff appearance, including the marathon that was game two of the ALDS, Olson was also nearly perfect. He allowed only two batters to reach base in 2 innings of work across three games.
So where does that leave Olson in 2018? Can we expect that same kind of performance from him? Will he have an expanded role?
It’s quite likely that Tyler Olson will fill the same role in 2018 as he finished in 2017. As the Indians predominant lefty specialist, expect to see Olson face one to two batters per game and for those hitters to be exclusively left-handed. Is it possible he could be stretched out should the situation require it? Yes, almost certainly. But with the exception of Cody Allen and Andrew Miller, Terry Francona very much enjoys using his other relievers in predefined roles and situations. The expectation should be that he will only deviate from Olson’s loogy role on bull pen days or on days when the pen has already been tapped.
In terms of performance, there was nothing about Olson’s 2017 season, other than it’s complete “out of nowhereness,” that suggests he can’t duplicate it. He controlled the zone as indicated by his relatively few walks allowed and pitched to medium-weak contact. This contact was almost exclusively on the ground, 52.9%. With the Indians above average defense around the infield, it’s not surprising that many of these ground balls resulted in outs. And while Olson only averages around 88-89 MPH on his fast ball, he effectively complimented it with a big swooping curve ball that was nasty to left-handed hitters with an occasional change-up thrown in for good measure.
In that sense, Tyler Olson is the perfect foil to most over-aggressive left-handed pull hitters. While his velocity screams “hit me,” his ability to locate, change speeds, and alter arm angles keeps hitters guessing. In a sense, he’s almost the antithesis of Andrew Miller. While Miller succeeds on the pure power of his fastball and slider, Olson relies more on finesse and touch.