Career Profile: John Olerud
Per reader request, here is a career profile for John Olerud.
A college star at Washington State University, John Olerud entered the spring of 1989 as a virtually certain first-round pick. He was a successful two-way player in college, hitting .464 with 23 homers in 1988 but also posting a 2.49 ERA and a 15-0 record and 113/39 K/BB in 123 innings. However, his draft status became very unclear when he suffered a near-fatal brain aneurysm in January.
He got back on the field in time to hit .359 in 78 plate appearances, but no one was sure where to draft him. The Blue Jays ended up picking him in the third round, then gave him eight major league at-bats in September (he got three hits). Scouts loved his swing and felt he would be ready for the majors quickly; the main question was if the aneurysm would have some sort of lasting impact. Nowadays I'd probably give a similar player (very advanced and successful college player with a weird health issue) a Grade B+.
Olerud was so impressive in 1990 that he never went to the minors, spending the season with Toronto and playing 111 games, mostly as a DH. Indeed, he never played in the minors at all until a 10-at-bat rehab assignment in 2005. He hit .265/.364/.430 in his rookie season, then .256/.353/.438 in 1991, becoming the full-time first baseman. His big breakout came in 1993 at age 24, when he hit .363/.473/.599 with 54 doubles, 24 homers, 114 walks, and just 65 strikeouts in 551 at-bats. His OPS+ was an amazing 186, his WAR was 8.4.
That was a stunning season, and he had another similar campaign in 1998 with the Mets, posting another 8.4 WAR, a .354/.447/.551 line with a 163 OPS+. Those were his two peak seasons. In between and afterward, Olerud was a very strong and at times excellent hitter, although occasionally he was (unfairly) considered a bit disappointing. In an odd way I think his reputation suffered from what he did in '93 and '98: when you hit .360, people get disgruntled when you hit "just" .295.
In addition to his strong hitting, Olerud was a tremendous defensive first baseman, winning three Gold Gloves and posting strong-to-excellent defensive RAA values each year, even towards the end of his career.
His final career line was .295/.398/.465, OPS+128, career WAR 62.4.
Most Comparable Players: Will Clark, Edgar Martinez (offensively, obviously not with the glove), Mark Grace, Cecil Cooper, Paul O'Neill, Bobby Abreu, Keith Hernandez, Steve Garvey, Don Mattingly, and Wally Joyner. The Keith Hernandez comp makes a lot of sense: his OPS+ was exactly identical to Olerud's at 128, and he had a great glove, too. He is also very close on career WAR at 61.8.
Olerud was a great player but he falls a bit short on Hall of Fame standards. His Black Ink score is just 7 (average HOFer is 27), Gray Ink 51 (144), Monitor 68 (100), Standards 39 (50). He ranks 28th all time among first basemen in WAR. Most of the guys ahead of him are in the Hall, but most of them behind him aren't, so he's right on the cusp.