With his eighth home run and 19th RBI on Monday night against the St. Louis Cardinals, Chicago Cubs third baseman Mike Olt took the team lead in homers and is just two runs batted in behind Anthony Rizzo, despite receiving 63 less plate appearances this season.
Olt has achieved these numbers in spite of a .187 average on the season, which has been caused by a 31.7 percent strikeout rate, as well as an extreme fly-ball tendency. The reason for the all-or-nothing results at the plate for Olt this season is a 50 percent fly ball rate combined with just a 10 percent line drive rate. For players with at least 100 plate appearances, Olt ranks No. 6 overall in fly ball percentage, and his line drive rate is the lowest of those six hitters. In fact, Olt’s line drive rate is the second worst in MLB, behind just Adam Eaton of the Chicago White Sox at 9.9 percent.
These numbers only confirm exactly what fans are watching every time Olt takes the plate. He has a fly ball swing, and when he connects solidly the ball goes a long way, as seen by his 26.7 percent HR/FB ratio. However, the problem is that contact has been rare for Olt this season, and at his current rate, he is a liability for the Cubs despite his home run and RBI totals.
Everything fans knew about Olt heading into the season has been confirmed so far, with the exception of his on-base skills. During each full season in the minor leagues, Olt posted double-digit walk rates, including a 13 percent walk rate in 2013. However, for the Cubs this season, Olt is at just 6.9 percent. Part of the problem may be a lack of consistent at-bats combined with Olt trying to show off his power to give the front office a reason to keep him in the Major Leagues.
Olt received 40 MLB plate appearances in 2012, but this season has been his first taste of the Major Leagues after a difficult 2013 minor league season put his MLB future in jeopardy. For this reason, Olt may be pressing at the plate with the fear of being sent back down to the minor leagues.
As word gets around the league that Olt possesses in-game light-tower power, he is going to see less pitches to hit and will need to make an adjustment at the plate. When this happens, Olt will either start chasing pitches, elevating his strikeout rate to an unacceptable level or he will show the selectivity of his minor league days and can begin to get more comfortable at the plate.
Olt is never going to hit for a high average, because his swing is tailored to fly balls and strikeouts. But his eye at the plate can determine whether or not he turns into a productive Big League hitter or if he needs to get used to the shuttle to-and-from Triple-A Iowa.
(All numbers courtesy of FanGraphs)