Aroldis Chapman vs. Mike Olt

In Commentary And Analysis by GW

Aroldis Chapman is not a popular figure among Cub fans at the moment. He buzzed Nate Schierholtz twice on Thursday, and nearly drove our hero to fisticuffs after staring down the Cubs dugout in the ninth. I’m pretty relieved that no punches were thrown, because the Reds strike me as the wrong team to mess with, to paraphrase Ryan Braun*. Chapman originally wanted to become a professional boxer. He sponsors Cuban boxers in the US strictly because he enjoys being around the sport. A 6’4″ lefty with enormous reach who can handle himself? Um, no thanks. In addition, Jonathan Broxton may be the largest person in baseball. Johnny Cueto once ended Jason LaRue‘s career, and Cueto looked like the voice of reason yesterday in holding back Alfredo Simon. Count me as glad that series is over, because any escalation would likely end poorly for the Cubs.

*I’m going to chalk that particular sentiment up to chemically-induced belligerence from Braun. The 2009 Brewers didn’t strike me as all that intimidating. If a player was inclined to mess and scanning a list of candidate teams to receive said messing, they certainly wouldn’t be the first one scratched off the list. Sure, Prince Fielder has a larger gravitational pull than most, but he’s only 5’11”.

I bring up the Chapman altercation because it is topical, but what I really wanted to focus on is a bout completely devoid of pugilism. It was pointed out in the comments that on Wednesday night, two prolific strikeout artists, Chapman and Mike Olt, went head-to-head in the ninth inning. The results were predictable: Olt struck out. But, just how predictable was it?

As of this writing, Chapman has struck out 51.4% of the batters he has faced. Among pitchers with at least 20 IP, that number comfortably leads the majors. In fact, were he to finish the season at that rate, it would be a the highest ever, edging out 2012 Craig Kimbrel. Chapman has struck out a batter in 39 straight appearances, and more often than not, he strikes out two per inning.

Mike Olt has nearly been Chapman’s historic equal from the batter’s box. Olt has struck out in 38.9% of his plate appearances. Among players with 180 PA, he is edging out Juan Francisco as the league “leader” in that category. He is currently neck and neck with Cody Ransom‘s 2012, and Melvin Nieves‘s 1997* for the highest rate of all time.

*I was shocked that a pre-2007 player-season showed up on the list. As a league, the NL is currently striking out in 20.5% of it’s plate appearances. In 1997, only 16.6% of AL appearances ended in a strikeout. Nieves in ’97 was a full 22.2 percentage points higher than the league average. Melvin Nieves: secret strikeout king.

The bottom line is that this matchup was one for the ages. Irresistable force meets tissue paper. But exactly how often would we expect a Chapman vs. Olt matchup to end in a K? The question can be answered using the odds ratio. For the sake of this exercise, I’m going to assume that Olt and Chapman’s current rates are equal to their true talent levels. In truth, both will likely regress to the mean some as the season moves along. All-time single-season records in July tend not to be so in September. I’m also going to ignore the platoon advantage, which works significantly in Olt’s favor, and the pinch-hitting penalty, which runs marginally in the opposite direction.

Plugging and chugging, it can be found that no less than 72.3% of Chapman/Olt matchups would be expected to end in a strikeout. Almost 3 out of 4 would end with him waving and walking back to the dugout. This, in a game being played at the absolute highest level, not some ill-conceived barnstorming tour.

If we use the same method and similar assumptions, an additional 11.2% of their matchups would end in a walk, and 1% in a hit-by-pitch. In sum, if the two faced off 100 times, only 15 or 16 would end with Olt making contact. The Reds could field a team full of Jose Molina‘s and still have a decent shot at preventing any runs from scoring over a 100-PA stretch. In fact, let’s make some more assumptions, and see what an Olt v. Chapman batting line would look like over the course of a season.

I’ll leave out any sac flies, bunts, and reached on errors. I’ll assume that Olt and Chapman’s career HR rates on contact are indicative of true talent, which helps Olt, who hit an unsustainable number of homers when playing regularly earlier this season. I’ll set the BABIP for the matchup at .265, which likely isn’t too far off. Using those assumptions, over the course of a 650 PA season, I find that Olt would put up a .060/.175/.128 line with 470 K’s and 73 BB’s against Chapman. He would hit 11 homers, so that’s something!

That batting line is at least in the right ballpark. I thought about messing around with the assumptions to see where it would take me, but then I realized that the projected batting line my numbers spit out is nearly identical to Olt’s actual line for June (.057/.132/.143), during which time he faced many pitchers who were not Aroldis Chapman. And that is just depressing.

Share this Post