Much like Jeff, I cannot speak to anyone else's impressions, but Garrett Olson's season presented an interesting case study into my internalization of 2010. Confined fully to the bullpen at the Major League level, Olson didn't do anything to call much attention to himself. Lost amidst a sea of awful performances in games that were by-and-large already lost, Olson just faded into the background and blended in with his surroundings. He was the relief corps embodied. Drab, unassuming and bad.
And a superficial glance at his top sheet numbers would reinforce those feelings. His FIP was bad, his xFIP was bad, his tRA was bad. He was decidedly below replacement level. The reasons boil down to far too much hard contact. He allowed a lot of line drives and was victimized by one too many home runs. A look at 2010 only could stop there, but beyond reviewing this season I am concerned with the next one as well.
Digging deeper there is a piece that intrigues me though. Olson's 2.2 strikeout to net walk ratio bests the American League average of 2.0. Olson stayed with the crowd on strikeouts and pushed ahead in limiting walks. Where Olson struggled was with his batted balls. Both BIS and MLBAM data agree that Olson's line drive rate was high and his home runs were a touch over the expected amount.
While not a guy who will strike fear in the tiny hearts of worms, Olson also isn't a nuclear threat to passing hang gliders either. If you combine his 2009 and 2010 bullpen numbers together, Olson grades out as exactly average in ground ball rate. That's not entirely fair since the retrospection is focused on 2010 and Olson was below average this past season, but since relievers are at the mercy of small samples, I include it to point out that 2011 Olson may not be a lost cause.
Of course, adjusting Olson's home run rate isn't a panacea for his overarching mediocreness. However, if Olson's ground ball rate stabilizes around his 2009/10 mean, if Olson can scale back on allowing line drives and if Olson can do both of those while not harming his strikeouts and walks, then he could achieve the vaunted level of average. That's nothing special, but considering his cheap cost and the endurance he brings as a former starter, that's a player with some use.
The apathy I felt with Olson may have been more about disappointment that he failed to regain the luster that he had as an Oriole prospect than about his actual performance this season. Garrett Olson was below replacement level as a reliever this season and yet I have some hope. Maybe he can take his mechanical engineering background and build himself a cutter.