Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you may know that Atlanta has a new first baseman this year — Matt Olson.
The Braves traded for Olson this offseason after talks with Freddie Freeman fell apart — an MLB drama series that’s still playing out with writers changing the plot every week.
Due to the massive domino effect of the trade, the former Oakland Athletic will be linked to Freddie Freeman for the rest of his career. Despite being the innocent bystander in all of this, Olson was under intense scrutiny before his introductory press conference. Much like Trae Young and Luka Dončić, he will forever be analyzed through a comparison with Freddie Freeman rather than as an individual.
However, we’re going to focus on Matt Olson’s year here — not what Freeman is doing out in Los Angeles.
Matt Olson’s 2022 Campaign
As we head into the All-Star break, Matt Olson has put together an impressive first half of the season. Unfortunately for him, Austin Riley suits up on the opposite end of the diamond, so he’s not the headline (and that’s a good problem to have, Braves fans).
Olson has started each of Atlanta’s 94 games in 2022, and the best ability is availability. Over that stretch, he’s slashing .255/.340/.488 with 17 home runs, 34 doubles, and 60 RBIs. He’s also walked 51 times.
That puts him on pace for 29 HR, 59 2B, 103 RBI, and 88 BB/IBB.
For comparison, in his best year as a big leaguer (2021), Olson had 39 HR, 35 2B, 111 RBI, and 100 BB/IBB.
“But his defense!”
Braves fans love to scream about Matt Olson’s defense. If you took a poll, many Braves fans would rank him the worst defender in the league.
Now slow down your reading and really focus on what I say next.
Matt Olson is statistically the seventh-best defensive first baseman in the league. He’s better than *checks notes* … Freddie Freeman?!
Yes. If you think Matt Olson is a bad defender, you are wrong. Plain and simple.
Matt’s biggest issue has been strikeouts; he’s racked up 100 in the first 94 games and is on track for 172 for the season. In 2021, he only had 113.
So is Matt Olson playing his best baseball? No, not yet. He’s been very good, but that should change. Here’s why.
Matt Olson’s Slow Start
Now, this next portion can’t be measured with statistics, so take it with a grain of salt. The numbers don’t lie, but I feel there are some factors at play that potentially affected Olson’s first half and indicate his second half will be stronger.
As much as we all love Moneyball, baseball players aren’t just numbers. They’re humans. And Matt Olson displayed some very human elements to his game early in the season.
Let’s take a look at the situation.
Matt Olson grew up in Lilburn, Georgia (a Braves fan) and played ball at Jeff Francoeur’s alma mater, Parkview High School. While playing out west, he lived in Atlanta during the offseason to be close to family.
A true professional, Olson never spoke out about wanting to play for the Braves while in Oakland but admitted it had been his life-long dream in his introductory press conference.
So here he is, over-the-moon excited for everything that’s come together. Except there’s a little cloud hanging over it all. A lot of fans don’t want him.
They still adore Freddie Freeman.
This article isn’t about Freddie, so I’m not going to spend a lot of time talking about him. But in this situation, Freddie is the ex that everybody in the family loved. Matt is the better long-term player. He’s less of a financial burden, and he wants to be a Brave.
Save the agent-blaming rhetoric. If Freddie Freeman wanted to be in Atlanta, Freddie Freeman would be a Brave. End of story.
So now Matt Olson is not only facing the tall task of adapting to a new organization in a hyper-shortened offseason, but also the added pressure of living up to a Braves legend and fan-favorite.
I don’t care who you are, that’ll mess with your head.
He got off to a slow start this year. There is no point in denying it. I know that, you know that, he knows that.
But check out his last week, two weeks, and month:
He’s heating up.
Matt Olson Should Improve in the Second Half
It seems as though the emotion-filled Dodgers series was a turning point for Matt and fans alike. Freddie had his moment, and we showed our love. Now it’s time to turn the page.
Matt Olson will be playing first base for the Atlanta Braves for a very long time.
For all of these reasons, my not-so-bold prediction is that Olson will go on a tear in the second half. What did we learn last year? The best players get hot at the right time.
Olson’s pace says he’ll hit 29 homers and 59 doubles. I expect some of those wall-shots to turn into bombs in the dog days of July and August, which should bring those numbers to around 35 and 53. That should also bump the RBIs up a little, so I expect him to notch around 115 this year.
The biggest factor in Olson’s season will be his strikeout numbers. You have to remember, Olson hasn’t seen 90% of the pitchers he’s facing before. Not only is he in a new division, but he’s in an entirely new league. As he learns rival pitchers, he should be able to make more contact and draw more walks. If he improves his strikeout rate, Olson is in for a monster second half.
And remember Braves fans, going from one long-term great at first to another is not a bad situation to be in.
Photographer: John Adams/Icon Sportswire