Pitchers that last in the majors are the ones that reinvent themselves when something’s not working. In a post about Randy Wolf back in September I commented on this consistent trend:
[Wolf is] now a different pitcher. His injury/surgery/time off wouldn’t allowed him to be the same pitcher he was pre-2005. In his early days, he had a higher velocity fastball and threw it by hitters. Now, he uses plus secondary stuff to get hitters off-balance. In 2003 and 2004, he used his slider just 3.1% of the time. He threw it 13.2% last year, 13.9% this year. His K/9 this year is the second-lowest of his career, but so is his BB/9. Billy Beane recently told us, “The one thing about major league baseball is that it’s pretty Darwinian.” Just like Darwin realized that the birds of the Galapagos were two different species of Finches (and not different birds altogether), Randy Wolf hasn’t become a “different” pitcher. He’s still Randy Wolf. He’s just adapted.
“He’s a horse when he’s out on the mound. He tries to do anything he can to use his fastball.”
Olsen truly loved his fastball, but so did major leaguer hitters. Here’s Olsen’s corresponding FB%, wFB (which is weighted runs above average for fastballs), and FIP’s for the early part of his career:
2005: 58.5%, -2.7, 5.63
2006: 62.4%, -15.2, 4.33
2007: 70.2%, -22.6, 5.33
2008: 63.3%, -17.3, 5.02
2009: 56.4%, -17.8, 5.24
Olsen’s fastball was not doing the trick. Maybe it was maturity, maybe curiosity, or maybe just plain desperation, but Olsen has changed his game this year:
2010: 48.1% fastball, 28.5% slider, 23.3% changeup
Since 2008, Olsen has increased the use of his slider by 11.9% and his changeup by 2.3%, relying less on his fastball. Here are the results for so far this season:
Not only has his slider and changeup been solid, but because he isn’t overusing the fastball it’s stabilizing and becoming more than just a pitch to hammer. Olsen’s previously being a one trick pony may also have contributed to his high HR/FB rates throughout his career, a rate which has dropped 3.5% below his career low prior to this year.
Pitching is not easy, and hurlers can either stick to what’s not working and fail, or try something new and do their best to succeed. Olsen has chosen the latter.