Hector Olivera as a Player

I wrote the article below before the news that Hector Olivera had been arrested on suspicion of domestic assault.  Obviously, if true, those allegations are horrible, and take precedent over any analysis as a player. 

As you may know, the Atlanta Braves have entered a full-scale rebuild.  Nearly every player of note from the 2014 Braves has been shipped out of town: Justin Upton, Jason Heyward, Evan Gattis, Andrelton Simmons, Melvin Upton, Craig Kimbrel, Alex Wood, etc.  Most of the transactions the team has made can be characterized as typical for a rebuilding club — exchange short-term assets for long-term assets with a focus on youth.  You can argue the emphasis on stockpiling pitching is unique, but the general idea of the Braves rebuild fits the standard template.  That is, with the exception of one transaction.

Just before the 2015 MLB Trade Deadline, the Braves sent 24-year-old left-hander Alex Wood and organizational top infield prospect Jose Peraza to the Los Angeles Dodgers for 30-year-old Cuban rookie third baseman Hector Olivera.  The teams exchanged other pieces in the deal (including a 2016 draft pick headed to Atlanta), but the backbone of the trade was Wood and Peraza for Olivera.  In making the deal, the Braves bucked the conventional rebuild philosophy (particularly theirs) in sending out young, cheap, controllable assets while acquiring a more expensive player who was already 30 years old.  It was a bold move that made Olivera and his development hugely important in making the tear-down to build-up strategy a success.  So, eight plus months later, what do the Braves have in Hector Olivera?

The short answer is no one knows.  There simply is not enough of a sample to have any confidence projecting Olivera.  When the Braves acquired him, Olivera was nursing a hamstring injury, so he began his Braves career with a rehab stint in the middle of August.  After a combined six games between the Braves’ rookie and Single-A affiliates, Olivera played another 10 games at Triple-A before making his major-league debut September 1.  He finished 2015 with 87 plate appearances and has added 21 more thus far in 2016 for a grand total of 108 major league PAs.  While 108 plate appearances is not much to go on, this is FanGraphs, so we can do better than shrugging and throwing our hands in the air until the sample grows.

Plate-discipline numbers are some of the first to stabilize after a player is called up.  During his time in MLB, Olivera has walked less than average (BB% of 5.6%) while also striking out less than average (K% of 15.7%) and making contact at a rate just above league average (Contact% of 81%).  A low walk rate combined with a low strikeout rate and near average contact rate means he must be swinging the bat.  Sure enough, that is what is shown on his player page.

O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% O-Contact% Z-Contact% Contact%
MLB Average 2015-16 31.0% 67.2% 47.4% 65.0% 86.8% 79.0%
Hector Olivera 37.6% 70.1% 51.7% 71.1% 88.0% 81.0%

Olivera swings at over 4.0% more pitches than the MLB average player.  That alone would not be concerning, except the reason that his Swing% is elevated is mainly because he is swinging at pitches outside of the strike zone, as evidenced by an O-Swing% 6.6% above the league average.  These are the hardest pitches to get the barrel of the bat on, and Olivera’s batted-ball numbers show the effects of swinging at balls outside the zone.

ISO BABIP LD% GB% FB% IFFB% HR/FB Soft% Med% Hard%
MLB Average 2015-16 .153 .301 21.0% 45.0% 34.1% 9.5% 11.4% 18.4% 52.4% 29.2%
Hector Olivera .133 .272 14.5% 50.6% 34.9% 24.1% 6.9% 32.5% 51.8% 15.7%

Despite showing the ability to hit the ball hard with a maximum exit velocity of 110 according to Baseball Savant (approximately 86th percentile thus far in 2016), Olivera has posted ISO and BABIP figures well below the MLB average.  His struggles to make consistent solid contact show up throughout his profile with a low LD%, high IFFB% (a BABIP killer), and low HR/FB ratio.  Perhaps the best summary of Olivera’s MLB batted-ball authority is found within his soft/medium/hard contact percentages.  His medium contact rate is nearly identical to the league average, but Olivera’s hard contact percentage is well below league average with the entire difference and more being accounted for in his soft contact percentage.  Essentially, Olivera’s offensive output has been sunk by a poor approach.  He has swung at too many pitches outside the strike zone, leading to weak contact and therefore poor production on balls in play. 

I haven’t yet touched on his fielding and baserunning numbers.  The Braves were not confident in his ability to stick at third base, so they moved him to left field this past offseason.  Obviously that does not suggest much confidence in his fielding ability, but it remains to be seen how he will perform as an outfielder.  The early returns are not promising as both DRS and UZR have him rated negatively (-2 and -3.7 respectively) in an admittedly microscopic sample of 43 innings.  As for his baserunning, BsR numbers of an exactly average 0.0 leave little reason to expect him to contribute or hurt much on the base paths.  It seems safe to say the bat will be what determines Olivera’s future success. 

Fortunately, the potential in that bat is obvious given the hype surrounding him and ultimately the contract he received coming out of Cuba.  He has also shown the ability to hit the ball hard on occasion at the major-league level, but particularly given the Braves decision to move him from third base to left field, Olivera will need to learn to make much more consistent hard contact to post acceptable offensive numbers.  For the Braves, there is plenty left to see to determine if this trade was a wise investment, but the early returns are not promising. 

1 Comment
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
8 years ago

I appreciate the write-up of Olivera because I never got around to reading about his potential. He sounds like an aggressive, hard swinging guy without good contact rates.

I don’t agree that I must consider Olivera’s personal life, except where it intersects with playing time. But, at least you were more swift in getting past it than David Temple in his Aroldis Chapman player profile.