7 reasons the Atlanta Braves can expect a monster year from Matt Olson

New Atlanta Braves 1B Matt Olson no longer has to deal with a big ballpark.(Photo by Michael Zagaris/Oakland Athletics/Getty Images)
New Atlanta Braves 1B Matt Olson no longer has to deal with a big ballpark.(Photo by Michael Zagaris/Oakland Athletics/Getty Images)

When the Atlanta Braves acquired their new first baseman, you have to wonder how much they were looking forward to him changing home stadiums as part of the attraction.

Normally when we discuss big home/road splits with players, it has to do with the extreme nature of a stadium like Coors Field.  Turns out that Truist Park might have something special in store for one of the newest Atlanta Braves.

On the surface, Matt Olson‘s stats have lined up fairly well against those of Freddie Freeman:

  • Freeman:  138 OPS+ (12 seasons)
  • Olson:  134  (6 seasons)

But while it’s certainly arguable that NL East pitching is superior to that Olson saw in the NL West, there are a lot of factors moving in his favor as he comes to Atlanta.  Let’s itemize…

7. Travel

Fangraphs averaged the travel miles for every MLB team over a 6 year period back in 2011.  This should still be close to accurate until next year’s schedule changes hit (where every team will be playing at least one series against every other club and intra-divisional games are reduced).

  • Oakland:  2nd most air miles overall; 8th most for back-to-back games
  • Atlanta:  11th fewest air miles overall;  10th fewest for BTB games

That’s not insignificant…  the average flight time for the A’s is 57% longer than that for the Braves. 3-hour flights become 4.5 hours. 2-hour flights (and the A’s don’t have many of those) are 3 hours instead.

It is something that wears on the body as a long season progresses and chews up valuable rest time.  A rested player is a productive player.

The Rockies arguably have it the worst; but for them, it’s not about the mileage (just 10% more air travel than Atlanta) as it is the adjustment from elevation… but that’s a factor in this discussion, too.

6.  Elevation

The Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum sits about 25 feet above sea level.  Topographic maps show that the field level at Truist Park is roughly 988 feet up… one of the highest parks in baseball.

That’s not a Coors Field difference, but it is enough to lower the air’s barometric pressure — all other things being equal — by 1 full inch of mercury.

Air that’s less dense imparts less friction on a baseball.  Ergo… ball goes further.  But that’s only one air-related factor.

5.  Bringing the heat

Climate-wise, Oakland is a wonderful city in which to watch a ballgame.  Temperatures from June to October average highs in the 70-72 degree range.

For Atlanta?  Average highs in the 90’s are common in the Summer months, as we know.  While games are usually played in the evenings, that simply means that the sweltering temperatures drop to the 80’s until late in the game… while in Oakland, you might need a light jacket by then.

But temperature is another factor impacting air density:  the hotter it is, the less dense the air… and balls fly further.

Now for the air density tri-fecta…

4.  The Humidity

The climate data suggests that average marks for relative humidity between Oakland and Atlanta are actually fairly similar during the Summer, with Oakland perhaps a little higher (likely due to their proximity to the Pacific Ocean).

That tends to undermine my argument here as higher humidity also contributes to air that’s less dense.  However… most of us from the deep South can recall a lot of Summer days in which the RH pops a steamy 90% or more… particularly once a shower comes through.

So I’ll still mark this as an occasional advantage toward Truist Park… though probably not as significiant as the prior two factors of altitude and heat.

All of these elements together certainly contribute to park factors that favor Truist over the Coliseum.

In ESPN’s rundown, Truist ranked as a fair park for homers in 2021:  15th ranked overall.  Oakland’s stadium, however:  26th most difficult to hit a homer with a difference between the parks of nearly 20% (0.840 vs. 1.022)!

3. Foul Matters

Among the problems in Oakland are the dimensions of foul territory.  It’s among the largest regions in baseball.  By contrast, Truist Park appears to have perhaps only 1/3rd of the foul territory — one of the smallest regions in baseball (Pittsburgh appears to have less).

How small?  People sitting in the front row behind home plate at Truist are closer to the catcher than the pitcher is!

Olson was already asked about this, and he’s noted that it will be a love/hate thing:  extended foul ground is great if you’re a defender or pitcher, but not so as a hitter.

As such, he’s looking forward to foul balls that will find their way into the 5th row or so rather than a glove.  Hitters always like to have a chance to see second-chance extra pitches.

2. The Splits

Over his career, Olson has mashed 142 homers… with a split differential favoring road stadiums by an 86/76 margin.  That trend continued in 2021 with a 21/18 road advantage.

It doesn’t mean he was a lesser hitter at home — note 56 doubles in Oakland vs. 45 on the road during his career.  It’s just that the Coliseum is so difficult as a venue to hit in.

You can expect those splits to reverse themselves this season.

1.  Lineup Protection

The top three in the lineup for Oakland last Summer consisted of Mark Canha (now a Met), Starling Marte (trade deadline acquisition) and Olson.

Behind Olson was Jed Lowrie and catchers Sean Murphy and Yan Gomes… none of these an OPS threat above .800, which contrasts strongly behind Olson’s team-leading .911 OPS.

Consider a Braves lineup that could have any of these players hitting behind him:

  • Austin Riley
  • Marcell Ozuna
  • Adam Duvall
  • either catcher (d’Arnaud/Pina)
  • Note:  likely not the LHH Eddie Rosario… but he might often be hitting 5th.

You simply can’t pitch around Olson.  Opponents will have to go after somebody to get outs, and they will already have had to reckon with Acuna and Albies at the top of the order.

BrooksBaseball.net shows that Olson was generally pitched low and away in 2021, particularly with non-4 seamer pitches.  He had a lot of success despite this approach.

Olson should see a lot more pitches in the hitting zone this season.  He will crush them.

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You may agree or disagree with some of these elements.  No matter.  All of them should work together to create a substantially more favorable hitting environment than what Olson saw on the West Coast.

The adjustment for him will be in handling the superior pitching quality that the NL East has to offer.  But strong hitters will usually rise to that challenge as well.