Born: January 12, 1984
Height: 6′ 4″
Weight: 170
Bats: Left
Throws: Left
Drafted: 6th Round, 173rd Overall, 2002
How Acquired: Free Agent
High School:  Crystal Lake (IL) South
Agent: Matt Sosnick


The Pirates signed Olsen to a contract calling for a $500K base salary for 2011 after the Nationals non-tendered him. The deal also includes $3M in possible incentives and a $4M team option for 2012. Olsen has been struggling for years to regain his 2006 rookie form, most recently being hampered by shoulder problems in 2009-10. When healthy, he hasn’t exactly been a power pitcher, but he’s not a soft-tosser. According to Baseball America, he threw 91-93, reaching 96, in the minors, but he’s never thrown that hard in the majors. He averaged a little over 90 mph in his first two full years, but his velocity dropped in 2008. According to the pitch values at fangraphs, his fastball has never been an effective pitch anyway. He’s gotten outs with his slider and change. Olsen has been a flyball pitcher for most of his career and has had serious gopher ball problems, even in his good years. He’s generally had significant platoon splits, with RH batters hitting .282 against him compared to .253 for LH batters, along with significantly weaker HR, BB and K rates against the former.

Along with the shoulder and performance problems, Olsen has been dogged by issues about his attitude. These have been different from, say, Lastings Milledge, whose purported issues were overblown before he came to Pittsburgh and resulted mainly from excess enthusiasm. Olsen by contrast was been convicted for DUI and resisting arrest while with the Marlins, and has also had a number of run-ins with teammates and at least one manager.

2002-05: Wasn’t well known when drafted, due in part to poor mechanics, but following adjustments by Florida’s coaching staff quickly established himself as top prospect. BA rated him the 38th best prospect in baseball prior to the 2005 season and 34th prior to 2006.

2006: Had outstanding rookie season, finishing fifth among NL starters in fewest hits per nine innings and seventh in K rate.

2007-08: Fell off badly in 2007. Velocity dropped only a little, but got hit much harder. Line drive percentage increased from 18.2% to 23.7%, and both groundball and popup rates dropped, along with K rate. Returned most of the way to 2006 numbers in 2008, except K rate plunged even further and velocity dropped from just over 90 to under 88 on average.

2009: Traded to Nationals. Had several good starts in April, but fell off in May and started having shoulder problems. Velocity did not rebound, although K rate did a little. Started throwing slider more often, fastball less often. Pitched only three times after mid-May and then had surgery to repair torn labrum.

2010: Joined Nats’ rotation in mid-April. Had outstanding five-game stretch from late April to mid-May, but started having shoulder problems again and pitched only once in June and July. After getting bombed on September 1, pitched only twice more in relief and was shut down with shoulder soreness. Velocity partly returned, as fastball averaged 89.6 mph. Continued throwing fewer fastballs (just 50%) and threw slider nearly a third of the time.

Olsen will draw a lot of comparisons to Zach Duke, whom he’s replacing in the rotation, but the two aren’t similar pitchers. Duke’s career K rate is 4.7. Olsen’s is 6.6 and he fanned far more hitters in the minors. In fact, if you count only full seasons, Olsen’s career-worst K rate of 5.04 is topped only by Duke’s 5.43 in 2010. Olsen also has allowed a career opponents’ batting average of .276, compared to Duke’s .300. This isn’t to say that Olsen will be better than Duke, but his ceiling, if he’s healthy, probably is higher. In spring training, however, he was hampered by a hamstring problem and wasn’t able to pitch much.  He also created a minor controversy when he made some comments implying he wouldn’t be amenable to pitching in relief.  He opened the season on the disabled list and it remains to be seen what his role will be if and when he gets healthy.

Baseball Reference–Majors
Baseball Reference–Minors
1 year/$550,000 contract with 2012 club option2012: $4,000,000 (club option, $100,000 buyout)
2011: $450,000

  • Can earn up to $3 M in performance bonuses in 2011, based on starts.

2010: $1,000,000
2009: $2,800,000 (avoided arbitration)
2008: $405,000
2007: $380,000

Signing Bonus: $145,000
MiLB Debut: 2002
MLB Debut: 6/25/2005
MiLB FA Eligible: N/A
MLB FA Eligible: 2012
Rule 5 Eligible: N/A
Added to 40-Man: 12/6/2010
Options Remaining: 2 (USED: 2005)
MLB Service Time: 5.101
June 4, 2002: Drafted by the Florida Marlins in the 6th round, 173rd overall.
June 9, 2002: Signed by the Florida Marlins to a minor league contract with a $145,000 bonus.
June 23, 2005: Contract purchased by the Florida Marlins.
November 11, 2008: Acquired by the Washington Nationals from the Florida Marlins along with Josh Willingham in exchange for Emilio Bonifacio, P.J. Dean, and Jake Smolinski.
November 5, 2010: Filed for free agency.
December 6, 2010: Signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates as a free agent.