A struggling team can make somewhat reasonable fans say some completely unreasonable things. That has never been more prevalent than this past weekend when much of Braves Country decided Matt Olson is the reason this team is four games under .500 and 10 games behind the Mets in the NL East.
I figured criticism was going to come at some point, especially if the Braves started slowly. It was always going to be difficult for anyone to fill the shoes of Freddie Freeman — even Matt Olson. However, I didn’t expect people to write him off before Memorial Day, especially since he hasn’t even performed poorly by any means through less than two months of the season.
Offensively, Olson leads all big-leaguers in doubles with 23. He keeps hitting the ball hard to all fields, and eventually, a lot of those line drives are going to find some elevation and leave the yard, especially as things heat up in the summer months.
Olson has also shown a keen ability to take his free passes, leading to a .371 OBP, which would be the highest mark of his career and 21 points above his career average. His .857 OPS is only one point shy of his career average, and his 135 OPS+ (100 is average) is 35% above league average. Even amid a stretch of baseball where it seems Olson hasn’t done anything outstanding, he’s still proving to be not only one of the best hitters on the team, but one of the best hitters in baseball.
An area of Olson’s game that hasn’t lived up to expectations thus far is his defense. This is a two-time Gold Glove winner we are talking about, and by most metrics, he’s having the worst defensive season of his career. With that being said, defense is the last thing I’m worried about it comes to Olson. There’s way too large of a sample size of him being a good defensive first baseman for me to overreact to a 50-game stretch where he hasn’t looked as sharp. It must be better, but everything over the course of his career suggests it will improve significantly.
Of course, that’s not going to be enough to talk people off the ledge. Some fans still want to point at what Freddie Freeman’s doing for the Dodgers and compare it to what Olson is doing for the Braves. To those fans, I want to say two things:
- You’re missing the point
- Sample size
The Braves decision to go after Olson while Freeman played hardball was never about just this season. If it had been, everybody might have a right to be upset. Most people would agree Freeman is a better — even if it’s slightly — player than Olson at this point in their respective careers. This decision was all about the longevity of the contract.
With Olson, the Braves got an All-Star caliber first baseman that is five years younger than Freeman locked in at a much lower AAV over the next eight seasons. This move can’t be judged this year, next year, or five years from now. It was a long-term gamble, and one that still has the potential to pay substantial dividends.
Secondly, a 50-game sample size is far too small to determine anything anyways. Hell, just look at how Freeman started his 2021 campaign with the Braves compared to Olson in 2022.
2021 Freeman’s slash line: .235/.364/.465/.828
2022 Olson’s slash line: .263/.371/.484/.857
I would say Freeman’s 2021 season turned out just fine. Anybody overreacting is just setting themselves up to look silly in the future. The Braves are tough to watch right now, and who knows if they will be able to turn it around like they did last year, but Olson certainly isn’t one of the primary reasons for the team’s issues to this point.
Photo: Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire
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