The Atlanta Braves have their 1st baseman for 2022, and it is not Freddie Freeman
To many Atlanta Braves fans surprise, it appears that the Freddie Freeman era in Atlanta is over. While some may mourn him leaving for good reason, there can be some solace in knowing that there is a new 1st baseman that can at least stack up statistically, Matt Olson.
We should note, Olson is not a straight up replacement. There was no way to guarantee Freddie would come back, so technically speaking, Olson is upgrading from who the Braves currently had on the roster. The difference between Matt Olson, and say Orlando Arcia (who is the only other infielder on the 40-man roster not accounted for) is massive.
In this exercise we will look at the two players and how, if Freddie Freeman is not returning, Olson is about as good as you can get with replacing the statistical value Freeman has consistently produced.
We will look at the last 4 years since that is when Matt Olson started taking over as an everyday player.
Freddie Freeman over the last 4 years for the Atlanta Braves
It is no secret that Freddie Freeman has been a top first baseman in MLB over the past 4 years. In fact, some could argue he is building a Hall Of Fame resume.
Freddie Freeman played in 98.7% of possible games over the past 4 seasons with a slash line of .306/.398/.532 with a 141 OPS+ (41% higher than league average), 105 home runs, and a 0.72 walk to strikeout ratio.
From a defensive standpoint he was good, but not elite. Sure, he won a Gold Glove, and this is in no way supposed to knock his talent, but he was not as good as some people may have remembered.
In the past 4 years he accumulated -2.2 defensive Wins Above Replacement (dWAR). In 2018 he was excellent as far as Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) goes with 8, but only accumulated 2 more over the next 3 years combined. In fact he has 11 DRS for his career.
Another way to look at his defense is to look at SABR Defensive Index to compare him to his peers. This is actually the combination of defensive metrics put on the official Gold Glove ballot. Freddie was 11th in the NL in 2021, 4th in 2020, 8th in 2019, and 3rd in 2018.
From a base running standpoint, he has been one of the better 1st baseman in MLB. As we all should know, there is more to base running than just steals. We can measure this with Ultimate Base Running. Freeman did well in this area
Since 2018, Freeman accumulated 3.4 UBR, with 2.7 coming in 2021 alone. For reference, Pirates’ Center Fielder Bryan Reynolds had 2.6 UBR in 2021.
All of these numbers helped Freddie Freeman accumulate an overall WAR of 17.1 in the past 4 years.
Freeman did have a slightly down year offensively for the Atlanta Braves by his standards with an OPS+ was 33% higher than average as opposed to his 41% over the past 4 years. From a peripherals standpoint though, he still was as elite as ever.
In almost every single baseball savant category he was in the 26% or better:
· Average Exit Velocity – Top 15%
· Max Exit Velocity – Top 10%
· HardHit % – Top 23%
· Expected Weighted On Base Average (xwOBA) – Top 2%
· Expected Batting Average (xBA) – Led MLB
· Expected Slugging Percentage (xSLG) – Top 4%
· Barrel % – Top 23%
· Strikeout % – Top 14%
· Walk Rate (BB%) – Top 13%
Freeman ended 2021 with an OPS+ of 133, his lowest since 2015.
New Atlanta Braves 1st baseman Matt Olson has done fine for himself too
It can without a doubt be argued that it will be difficult to replace Freeman’s dugout presence for the Atlanta Braves, leadership, and other intangibles that come with it. However, there should not be a big drop off statistically.
In playing 92.4% of possible games since 2018, Olson slashed .254/.348/.501 with an OPS+ of 132, 118 home runs, and a 0.49 walk to strikeout ratio.
Defensively, Olson has been an absolute stud as far as 1st baseman go. Since 2018, Olson has accumulated 0.7 dWAR (which is insanely good for a 1st baseman), 34 DRS, and in SDI placed 3rd in the AL in 2021 for 1st baseman, 3rd in 2020, 1st in 2019, and 1st in 2018.
From a base running standpoint he is not as good as one may expect. He has accumulated -1.9 UBR since 2018, albeit with a positive 1.9 in 2021.
The accumulation of these numbers have helped Olson to a WAR of 15.4. Interestingly, factoring in all faucets of the game, Olson actually had a higher WAR in 2021 than Freeman with a 5.8 to 4.7.
We looked at the past 4 years, but it is important to see what a full season worth of peripherals looked like for Olson to compare to Freeman. Olson stands out with excellent numbers:
· Average Exit Velocity – Top 13%
· Max Exit Velocity – Top 5%
· HardHit % – Top 13%
· Expected Weighted On Base Average (xwOBA) – Top 10%
· Expected Batting Average (xBA) – Top 32%
· Expected Slugging Percentage (xSLG) – Top 16%
· Barrel % – Top 18%
· Strikeout % – Top 24%
· Walk Rate (BB%) – Top 8%
In 2021 Olson ended up with an OPS+ of 153, the highest of his career.
Recapping the differences
In a nutshell, over the past 4 years Freeman had the slight advantage offensively and with is base running. Defensively, Olson had a huge advantage.
Freeman looks to possibly be trending down if we look at last year alone, while Olson looks to be trending up.
If we break the categories up we can see a little better:
· OPS+ over the past 4 years – Freeman leads by 8%
· OPS+ last year – Olson leads by 20%
· Home Runs over the past 4 years – Olson leads by 13
· Walk/Strikeout ratio over the past 4 years – Freeman leads by 0.23
· WAR over the past 4 years – Freeman leads by 1.7
· WAR last year – Olson leads by 1.1
· DRS over the past 4 years – Olson leads by 24
· SDI positional rank average – Olson leads by average 2nd, Freeman averaged 6.5 in the rankings.
· UBR over the past 4 years – Freeman leads by 5.3
· UBR last year – Freeman leads by 0.8
It is okay to be sad Freeman is leaving AND be happy that Olson is coming in
It is safe to say, even though fans and players alike may be sad that Freeman is most likely leaving Atlanta, the 1st base position is in good hands with Matt Olson.
Freddie Freeman will forever be an Atlanta Braves legend. His legacy is cemented in Braves history forever. Hopefully one day he will be wearing a Braves cap in the baseball Hall Of Fame