Oakland Athletics first baseman Matt Olson is going against the mainstream this season: rather than embrace the strikeout as more acceptable in today’s game, he’s cut his “K” rate drastically in the 2021 campaign’s early going.
He’s an established slugger, hitting as many as 36 home runs during a single campaign in his six seasons of big-league experience, which could make the strikeouts more palatable. But Olson’s whiff rate has fallen by nearly 50 percent this season.
Olson struck out 77 times in 60 games (a 31.4 percent rate) in 2020, earning him a spot at No. 4 on an AL leaderboard. But in 55 games played in 2021, he’s nearly cut that number in half, to a much healthier 16.5 percent.Alex Coffey/The Athletic
In an article by Alex Coffey of The Athletic, it’s revealed that Olson’s special weapon in achieving this turnaround is something called the “little red machine,” which was first introduced to the A’s by former player Tommy La Stella.
What the machine is exactly isn’t clear from reading Coffey’s piece, I have to say, but she did report that it can be had at the sporting goods store for about $100, according to A’s hitting coach Eric Martins. It’s likely a pitching machine of some sort, according to Coffey, which helps with staying on top of the pitch and reinforcing good habits.
Additionally, Olson tweaked his swing in spring training, and the alterations were designed specifically to reduce strikeouts and improve on Olson’s career-worse slugging percentage last season.
Olson has won multiple Gold Gloves and even received an MVP vote in 2019, but this season could be his first All-Star appearance, thanks in large part to his lowered strikeout rate. He’s among the top 10 players in the majors in home runs and slugging percentage, and his defense is still top rate. It’s a real pleasure to see a slugger in today’s game reject the acceptance of the strikeout, and thus far, Olson is reaping the benefits, as are the Athletics.