Atlanta Braves: Did Matt Olson live up to expectations?
After the Atlanta Braves traded for Matt Olson on March 14th, 2020, and subsequently signed him to an 8-year, $162 million dollar extension, the expectations were officially set for his tenure with the team.
Matt Olson joined the Atlanta Braves and almost immediately had to confront one of the toughest tasks that has ever faced a Major League player: replace Freddie Freeman.
With Olson locked up for the next eight — potentially nine — years, his first year for the organization shouldn’t come under a tremendous amount of scrutiny. Despite that, the Braves front office and fanbase certainly had expectations for how Olson might perform this year given the huge extension he was dealt, so it’s certainly worth exploring.
However, before delving into whether Olson “met expectations,” it’s important to acknowledge that there were multiple factors affecting Olson throughout the season.
Things like moving across the country, the shift from the American to the National League, the change in coaching staff, and of course, the mental pressure of replacing Freeman will all more than likely have weighed on him at some point.
It won’t take a very deep dive to recognize that Olson had a good season. A Gold Glove nomination and 34 home runs are more than ninety percent of the players in this league could ask for.
The purpose of this article, then, will be to judge, in full context, how good this season was by Matt Olson’s standards.
How did Olson’s season measure up to the Atlanta Braves expectations?
If the bar for Olson was set at his electric 2021 campaign in Oakland, then many in the organization, including the fanbase, will have been disappointed.
Olson’s 2021, which saw him slash .271/.371/.540 and hit career highs in fWAR at 5.1 and wRC+ at 147 comfortably placed him as the second-best first baseman in all of baseball. His 6 defensive runs saved (DRS) also ranked second among first basemen, earning him second place in Gold Glove voting.
Needless to say, everyone would have hoped that this Olson, who not only projected to be worth more than Freddie over the next 8 years but was better currently, would be the Olson that came to Atlanta. Unfortunately, that just wasn’t the case.
Olson’s 2022 numbers saw him end the year with a 120 wRC+, a 3.1 fWAR, and a .240/.325/.477 slash line.
His walk rate went down by 3% and his strikeout rate went up by 7.5%. Despite his defense remaining elite with 5 DRS and 2 outs above average (OAA), Olson simply wasn’t able to replicate the top-3 first baseman status that we all hoped he would.
The season doesn’t look so bleak when looking at these numbers in the broader context of his career, though. The Olson that played for the Atlanta Braves in 2022 was more of a regression toward the mean that he had established in his career prior to 2021.
Olson’s 2022 with the Atlanta Braves was actually quite good.
His strikeout and walk rates were the second and third-best figures of his entire career, respectively. His 120 wRC+ was also the third-best figure of his career and still good enough for fifth among first basemen in the National League. His fWAR ranked the same as his wRC+ in both respects. When considering that his defense remained up to its elite standards, this was actually a successful season for Matt.
If not for a dismal first half of September for Olson, these numbers may have looked better. He fixed his swing with hitting coach Kevin Seitzer and found immense success to end the season, putting together a 248 wRC+ after September 25th, and a 261 wRC+ in the playoffs. Truly eye-popping figures.
It’s likely that the immense success of Freddie Freeman hampered some of the excitement around Olson. Freddie sacrificed some of his power to put together an MVP-like season with his 5th-best-in-baseball 7.1 fWAR and 157 wRC+.
Comparing Olson to the illustrious pedigree of Freeman may seem unfair to some, but with the 2021 that Olson had and the nature of the Braves’ relationship with Freeman, he was firmly placed into those kinds of conversations.
Regardless, 2022 was a season to remember for Matt Olson. With his clutch playoff performances and the impending ban of the shift, the Atlanta Braves have to like what they saw from Olson going forward. Another year of getting acclimated in Atlanta should do him wonders.
Whether Olson’s extension sees him produce more value than Freddie Freeman over its duration remains to be seen. If Olson can improve on his 2022, he will put debates to rest and cement his place as one of the top first basemen in baseball.