The Atlanta Braves acquired Matt Olson from the A’s in exchange for a hefty prospect package, including Cristian Pache and Shea Langeliers. Alex Anthopoulos then promptly extended Olson for eight years. It’s all old news, but here’s what everyone really wants to know: what kind of numbers can we expect from Olson?
Matt Olson was an All-Star first baseman last season in the American League. That’s even more notable when considering who he’s competing against for that spot — Vladdy Jr. and Jose Abreu, just to name a couple. Despite playing in Oakland’s cavernous stadium, Olson has built his reputation around his sensational power tool, mashing 39 home runs last season.
Baseball Savant shows just how remarkable Olson was in 2021. For almost all stats involving power, he was near the top of the MLB. Olson’s exit velocity (87th percentile), hard hit percentage (also the 87th percentile), and max exit velocity (95th percentile) all tower over Freddie Freeman, whose shoes he will be filling. Many, including myself, were enraged that the Braves didn’t re-sign Freddie. However, in a vacuum, Olson is a similar caliber player but five years younger. His best years are still ahead of him.
These next statistics more accurately adjust for variables that hurt Olson, such as park dimensions. For example, OPS+ adjusts for ballparks and uses 100 as league average. Olson had an impressive 153 OPS+ in 2021, compared to Freddie’s 133, but it’s worth acknowledging that Freeman put up better batting average and on base numbers. Take Freddie’s 2021 slash line of .300/.393/.503 and contrast it to Olson’s .271/.371/.540 clip and the difference is evident.
But as far as fit in the lineup, I believe the Braves don’t need Olson to have Freddie’s batting average or on base percentage. With a healthy Acuna and Albies hitting before him, it can be argued that power is the more desirable trait. If Ozzie leads the NL in hits like in 2019, just imagine all the two or three run blasts Olson will mash. Statistically, Olson is strikingly reminiscent of Freddie Freeman, but a lot more goes into winning than just numbers.
Fit in Atlanta
Matt Olson is no stranger to the city of Atlanta. He was raised here and attended Parkview High School, which is a short 45 minute drive from Turner Field. During interviews, both Brian Snitker and Alex Anthopoulos have mentioned that the new first baseman seems like a great fit in the clubhouse. It’s also worth noting that the Athletics speak of Olson, as far as clubhouse presence goes, in the same regard as the Braves do of Freeman. Given the lighthearted and fun nature of the Braves we’ve seen the past few years, this should be a match made in heaven. The 2021 World Series run was a prime example of how quickly this Atlanta team adopts teammates and gels together, and I expect that to be the case again.
Using some educated guesses, I will predict what we can expect from the new Atlanta Braves’ first baseman in 2022. A few variables will change due to Olson’s transition from the AL West to the NL East. One of the most notable differences is the quality of pitching faced. The NL East is absolutely stacked with pitching. Between Aaron Nola, Max Scherzer, Jacob deGrom, and Miami’s promising young staff, there’s definitely a step up in competition. However, a beneficial change for Olson is a much more favorable right field at Truist Park. He should be peppering the Chop House with baseballs all season.
2022 stat predictions: .258/.350/.535 with 35 HR and 105 RBIs
These estimates are all fairly close to his career-best 2021 season, in which he posted .271/.371/.540 with 39 HR and 111 RBIs. I expect his average and OBP to regress closer to his career averages of .252 and .348, but I think the power numbers are here to stay, unlike the pitches coming his way.