The Braves were a part of arguably the two biggest blockbuster changes of the offseason. It started with the trade for Matt Olson, who they subsequently inked to an eight-year extension the following day. In a corresponding move, Freddie Freeman had to find a new home, and he ended up signing a six-year contract with the Dodgers. There aren’t many scenarios where a team lets a top-three player at a position walk and still somehow upgrades, but many people believe the Braves did just that.
Depending on where you look, Matt Olson was actually better than Freeman last season. But regardless, the new Braves’ first baseman is nearly five years younger and will cost the team much less annually than Freeman receives from the Dodgers. Saying goodbye to the face of your franchise is difficult, but I imagine Braves fans will quickly take a liking to Olson, who FanGraphs pegs as the third-best first baseman entering the 2022 season.
Here’s what they had to say about Olson as a part of their 2022 positional power rankings:
Olson made a remarkable turnaround from 2020, nearly cutting his strikeout rate in half (from 31.4% to 16.8%) while setting a career high in home runs (39) and posting his highest wRC+ since his abbreviated rookie campaign (146). In fact, his 14.6% drop in strikeout rate was the largest year-over-year decline of the Wild Card era, and only five players out-homered him. While he made more frequent contact than ever, it wasn’t necessarily better contact, as his barrel rate, hard-hit rate, and xwOBAcon were all below not only his 2020 rates but his ’19 and even (save for 0.1% worth of barrel rate) ’18 rates as well. That’s still an exceptional hitter; only Guerrero and Kyle Tucker had higher slugging percentages than Olson’s .540 among players who struck out 17% of the time or less. Throw in Olson’s above-average work at first base and you’ve got this top-tier ranking — and, with the trade to Atlanta and subsequent extension, massive shoes to fill given the departure of Freeman.
Freeman and the Dodgers came just in front of Olson and the Braves, but the difference was minuscule. Unsurprisingly, the Blue Jays and Vlad Jr. took the top spot.
At this point in their respective careers, choosing between Freeman and Olson is splitting hairs. There’s no questioning just how fantastic Freeman was with the Braves leading up to this season, but as FanGraphs notes, Olson made substantial strides to end last year. If he builds off that in 2022, the Braves should have a fantastic chance at repeating as NL East champs for the fifth consecutive season.
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