Thoughts on Scott Olsen

Apr. 27, 2010 - Washington, DC, United States of America - 25 April 2010: Washington Nationals starting pitcher Scott Olsen (19) in action against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C. The Washington Nationals defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers 1-0.

Scott Olsen - (Zumapress)

The Pirates got started on improving the starting rotation today, but their first move was an uninspiring one. The team has reportedly agreed to terms on a one-year deal with former Marlins and Nationals pitcher Scott Olsen, with a base salary somewhere around $1 million. The deal will likely become official later in the week, once Olsen completes a physical.

So what sort of boost should we expect Olsen to provide the Pirates’ starting rotation? Well, probably not much. He has battled injuries the past few seasons, and he hasn’t pitched particularly well since 2006. He boasts a career ERA of 4.85 along with mediocre peripheral numbers. His ERA in 2010 was 5.56, although he did boast an xFIP of 4.39 due to a career high groundball rate.

Let’s take a look at a few projections for Olsen, along with projections for some of the other internal rotation options. The first column is a projected context-neutral ERA from CHONE, the now defunct projection system from Sean Smith. These are a bit outdated (they were last updated on August 23rd), but they are still useful for now. (Note: CHONE projects James McDonald as a reliever, so mentally adjust his projection as necessary.) The second column is each pitcher’s ZiPS projection, created by Dan Szymborski. These are specific to the pitcher’s environment, so Olsen’s projection assumes he is pitching in Washington while the others assume the pitcher is with the Pirates. In the final column are my own personal projections. This system is in its infancy, and it is much more basic than the other more established projection systems.


James McDonald 3.75 4.14 3.80
Paul Maholm 4.31 4.40 4.54
Ross Ohlendorf 4.84 4.13 4.50
Jeff Karstens 5.10 5.06 4.78
Charlie Morton 4.89 4.95 4.47
Brad Lincoln 4.89 5.35 4.27
Scott Olsen 5.01 4.83 4.77


As you can see, each projection essentially agrees that Olsen is not going to be much improvement over the options already on the roster. He may end up being one of the five best pitchers on the team, but even that is being a bit optimistic. He improves the overall depth a bit, but probably not much more than your typical minor league free agent or waiver pickup.

Essentially, Olsen is Jeff Karstens with some off-the-field issues on his résumé. He comes cheap, so the risk is minimal, but I just don’t see the point to this signing.

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Matt Bandi

Matt has covered the Pirates at Wait ‘Til Next Year, Pittsburgh Lumber Co. and now Pirates Prospects. He served as Pirates team expert for Heater Magazine in 2009 and 2010 and has contributed to Graphical Player 2009, 2010 and 2011. Matt was also the editor of the 2011 and 2012 Pirates Prospects Annuals.

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