Projecting Oakland Call-Ups Renato Nunez and Matt Olson

On Monday, the Oakland Athletics promoted a couple of hitting prospects from Triple-A: Renato Nunez and Matt Olson. Both Nunez and Olson came off the bench on Monday to make their big-league debuts. With Billy Butler out of the picture, and Danny Valencia likely soon to follow, Nunez and Olson might see a decent chunk of playing time these next two weeks.

Olson’s numbers have trended in the wrong direction since his 37-homer season in the Cal League in 2014. He slashed .249/.388/.438 in Double-A last year and only managed to hit .235/.335/.422 in the PCL this year. Throughout his minor-league career, Olson has demonstrated good power and a willingness to draw walks. He’s also a 22-year-old with a 6-foot-5 frame, which suggests he may still have some untapped upside. But his underwhelming performance, defensive limitations and 24% strikeout rate don’t bode particularly well for his future in the show.

KATOH pegs Olson for 3.7 WAR over his first six seasons by the traditional method and 2.8 WAR by KATOH+, which integrates Baseball America’s rankings. To help you visualize what his KATOH projection entails, here is a probability density function showing KATOH+’s projected distribution of outcomes for Olson’s first six seasons in the major leagues.


To put some faces to Olson’s statistical profile, let’s generate some statistical comps for the newest Brewers prospect. I calculated a weighted Mahalanobis distance between Olson’s performance this year and every Double-A season since 1991 in which a first baseman or corner outfielder recorded at least 400 plate appearances. In the table below, you’ll find the 10 most similar seasons, ranked from most to least similar. The WAR totals refer to each player’s first six seasons in the major leagues. A lower “Mah Dist” reading indicates a closer comp.

Please note that the Mahalanobis analysis is separate from KATOH. KATOH relies on macro-level trends, rather than comps. The fates of a few statistically similar players shouldn’t be used to draw sweeping conclusions about a prospect’s future. For this reason, I recommend using a player’s KATOH forecast to assess his future potential. The comps give us some interesting names that sometimes feel spot-on, but they’re mostly just there for fun.

Matt Olson’s Mahalabobis Comps
Rank Name Mah Dist KATOH+ Proj. WAR Actual WAR
1 Eric Duncan 0.92 2.4 0.0
2 Mike Carp 2.31 2.4 1.8
3 Jim Edmonds 2.58 1.9 19.7
4 Adrian Gonzalez 2.62 3.0 19.1
5 Jacob Cruz 2.67 3.0 0.9
6 Mark Smith 2.85 2.0 2.2
7 Troy O’Leary 2.94 2.1 8.1
8 Todd Linden 2.98 2.0 1.0
9 Don Barbara 3.11 2.5 0.0
10 Dennis Colon 3.24 1.4 0.0


Nunez hit a strong .278/.332/.480 at Double-A last year, but failed to do much of anything in the PCL in 2016. His struggles can partly be explained away by a .249 BABIP, but his approach at the plate also deserves some of the blame. Nunez’s 22% strikeout rate and 6% walk rate suggest he’s still a few adjustments away from being able to hit big-league pitching. As a third baseman, Nunez doesn’t necessarily need to hit a ton to be a useful player, but the combination of contact and power he showed in Triple-A this year probably won’t be enough to cut it.


The comps:

Renato Nunez’s Mahalabobis Comps
Rank Name Mah Dist KATOH+ Proj. WAR Actual WAR
1 Jose Oliva 2.80 0.8 0.0
2 Arquimedez Pozo 4.12 2.8 0.0
3 Casey McGehee 4.67 2.8 4.5
4 Mike Hessman 4.89 1.3 0.9
5 Ron Hartman 4.91 1.3 0.0
6 Ricky Bell 4.96 1.3 0.0
7 Eric Duncan 5.13 0.9 0.0
8 Cole Liniak 5.17 0.9 0.0
9 Howard Battle 5.85 2.5 0.3
10 Olmedo Saenz 5.93 1.3 2.8

Though they obviously have their differences, Olson and Nunez are similar in a lot of ways. Both are 22-year-olds with power and a history of minor-league success. Both also struggled in the PCL this year, largely due to elevated strikeout rates. Owing to their high strikeout rates and lack of other skills, Olson and Nunez project to be little more than bench players long-term. But their power and youth hint at a higher upside if everything clicks.

Chris works in economic development by day, but spends most of his nights thinking about baseball. He writes for Pinstripe Pundits, FanGraphs and The Hardball Times. He's also on the twitter machine: @_chris_mitchell None of the views expressed in his articles reflect those of his daytime employer.

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6 years ago

Eric Duncan is a scary name to be compared to for both players.