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Miguel Olivo's Fascinating, Remarkably Dumb, Almost Useful, 2009 Season

Thanks to a .333/.364/.786 run in his last 44 plate appearances, Miguel is now hitting .257/.287/.493 on the season. His slugging percentage is easily the highest of his career, as is his wOBA, which now stands at .335. He's outperforming the projection systems. Now, it needs to be pointed out that that wOBA total is still just the sixth best on a very bad offensive team, and is barely ahead of the figure put up by the exiled John Buck (.331).

And this, essentially, is part of the Miguel Olivo experience: even when he's good, he's still so incredibly bad that he isn't really good. On the other hand, he does some things so well, that his rather glaring flaws are almost, read, almost, canceled out.

Commenting on the Buck-Olivo Catcher Controversy back in April, I wrote:

From where I sit, Olivo is a wildly more talented player, yet is no more effective. Olivo's cartoonish approach at the plate, which is legitimately one of the worst in the sport, tells us two things: 1) he isn't thinking up there and 2) he's like 15% Vlad Guerrero or he wouldn't be at this level at all. Buck is just a guy who swings and misses a lot, but who can hit the ball far when he connects with it.


As has been pointed out earlier on this site, he's reached first base via striking out on a wild pitch (3) than he has by simply walking (2). This is, without hyperbole, one of the more amazing "achievements" of the decade.

Without meaning to comment on how he might be off the field, which could easily be the exact opposite, let's just get this out there: Miguel Olivo is one of the dumbest hitters in the game. He makes the same mistakes, over and over and over and over and over again. And yet, for about the last month, he's almost made it work.

Imagine a guy in college. He's just a generic guy: middling grades, middling major, middling intelligence, middling connections, etc. He's just a guy. However, there's one thing about him that's different: he makes great hamburgers. He started cooking in high school, and while he's never branched out from hamburgers, he's definitively mastered the genre. Everyone says so. At the beginning of his junior year he decides to drop out of school and start a restaurant. A hamburger place. He has no money, but he's going to borrow what he can, live at home, and max out six credit cards. Everyone tells him this is a bad idea. People send him emails pointing out that 90% of restaurants fail. Moreover, people politely tell him that while his burgers are good, you can get burgers anywhere. Cheaply too. They tell him that he knows nothing about working full time, much less managing or owning a business. They tell him that his patented "blood burger" -- a favorite at his frat cookouts -- is actually a health hazard and could not only ruin his business, but legitimately kill someone.

Hamburger man doesn't listen to anyone. He goes forward with his idiotic plan. He opens a burger stand in a strip mall in the bad part of town, works 100 hour weeks, lives at home, takes the bus, burns his bridges with every friend he has asking for money and "volunteers" on weekends, etc. Somehow, however, because of the hamburgers he makes, he survives. His talent, his singularly common and easily replaceable talent for making hamburgers is somehow also so strong that he's found some business. Five years later he's still in debt, still lives at home, still only has one store and still works 100 hour weeks. He is not thriving, but he's eeked out a particularly greasy existence. He is not a success story, but he's still open.

That's Miguel Olivo. Or at least, Miguel Olivo on a hot streak.

What I keep coming back to is this: essentially, Miguel is both the best and worst Royals hitter. Somewhere inside him there was once a nascent being that could have been an All-Star, possibly even a Hall of Fame player. But he never overcame his limitations and instead began to be defined by them. He's a different kind of three-true-outcomes player: his outcomes are miss, popup, home run.

Look at the AL "leaders" in strikeout rate (min 130 PAs), hmm, who doesn't fit:

K % BB %
C. Davis 45.5 6.5
K. Shoppach 39.7 8.3
J. Saltalamacchia 38.3 6.7
C. Pena 36.0 16.7
OLIVO 34.7 1.9


He controls the at bat about as much as Tristan da Cunha controls the Atlantic.

Olivo's contact rate is just 47.3 %, second worst in the AL behind Chris Davis (who I guess we should expect in a Royal uniform by 2012). Olivo's o-swing number -- the percentage of pitches a batter swings at outside the strike zone -- is at an astounding 44.9%, easily tops in the AL.

When you consider these factors, it's amazing that Miguel ever gets a hit, let alone hits a homer. And yet, every so often, intermixt amidst hundreds and hundreds of completely idiotic swings, Miguel runs into one and hits a homer. He's taken an astoundingly dumb and unlikely path to being not quite useful out there, and even in many senses beat the odds to do so. Yet another fitting emblem of the Dayton Moore Era.