Matt Olson, Home Run Machine

Sort the last 30 day HR/FB rate leaderboard in descending order and ranking fifth out of 174 qualified hitters is Matt Olson. I first brought Olson to your attention back on August 9th when I highlighted him as one of my deep league wire selections after the Athletics traded Yonder Alonso, opening up at least a strong side platoon job for the rookie. After a power breakout at Triple-A this season, he was a good gamble to make in deeper leagues on the chance he had found a new level. And new level he indeed found.

Excluding last night’s homer, he’s sitting pretty with a .339 ISO and 39.2% HR/FB rate over 165 at-bats. He would be making an even larger fantasy contribution if his teammates weren’t so pathetic at driving him in. He had hit 20 homers, but only scored 28 times! But still, he’s on pace for over 100 runs given a full season’s worth of plate appearances.

Even with the power spike at Triple-A, his performance so far has clearly been far beyond anything we could have expected. Let’s look at the components of my xHR/FB rate equation to find out what’s driving his home run power.

Matt Olson xHR/FB Metrics
FB Pull% FB Oppo% Brls/BBE  Avg FB/LD EV (mph)* HR/FB xHR/FB HR/FB – xHR/FB
33.3% 39.2% 14.9% (ranked 16th) 97.5 (ranked 8th) 39.2% 22.8% 16.4%
*Not part of xHR/FB rate equation

One thing going for Olson is that he either pulls or goes the opposite way on a high percentage of his fly balls. His Oppo% is almost exactly at the league average, but then he’s also pulling the ball far more frequently. So combined, he’s hitting toward the lines 72.5% of the time, versus the 63.5% league average. Since the fences are closer in the corner outfields, as opposed to center field, obviously hitting it toward those parts will result in more homers, all else being equal.

As one might expect, his Brls/BBE is well above the 6.3% league average that includes those with at least 30 batted ball events and ranks 16th out of 525. Though his average fly ball + line drive exit velocity isn’t a part of my xHR/FB equation, I included it in the table anyway as more support for his power. He ranks 8th in that metric, lending further validity to his pop.

Overall, his metrics yield an xHR/FB rate of 22.8%, which is obviously a far cry from his actual 39.2% mark, but still mighty impressive. And although I didn’t calculate anyone else’s xHR/FB rate as I type this, I could tell you that his likely sits in the top 10. Obviously, no one has legitimate upper 30% HR/FB rate talent. That xHR/FB rate lines up with his 21.9% mark at Triple-A, so it’s not that difficult to believe. What’s impressive is that he’s doing this while playing in a home park that suppresses homers and yet he actually owns an astounding 44% HR/FB rate at Oakland Coliseum!

What I haven’t touched on which will also help him maintain such strong power output is his penchant for fly balls. He had posted fly ball rates over 40% at every minor league stop in his career and is currently sitting at 45.9% with the A’s. That would rank 16th among qualified hitters if he had enough plate appearances. The fly balls obviously aren’t good for his BABIP (part of the reason that’s sitting at a lowly .255), but an excellent sign for his chances at swatting 30 homers next season.

Looking toward next year, don’t get too carried away as he’s probably just a two category contributor. But the real issue is the platoon risk, which would cut into his at-bat total and counting stats. Even if he hit 30 homers next year, the cap on his at-bats could mean something like 60-65 runs and 75-80 RBI, to go along with a .240-.250 batting average. That’s essentially what I had Tommy Joseph projected for, who we ranked just 28th among first basemen heading into the season. However, in leagues that count OBP instead of average, his value gets a boost.

Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

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6 years ago

For those worried about the platoon:

As of now, Oakland doesn’t see him as that.