The Atlanta Braves are hoping that Matt Olson is primed for a breakout campaign in 2023. On the face of it, that seems like a ridiculous statement. Matt Olson finished last season with 34 home runs, 44 doubles (good for second in MLB), over 100 RBIs, and a 3.3 WAR all while playing under the shadow of former first baseman Freddie Freeman. Seems like a more than respectable campaign and one that many major league teams would die for from their first baseman. However, a closer look at the numbers shows that there is room for growth in Olson’s game and should leave Atlanta Braves fans excited about Olson’s long-term future with the club.
Olson more Comfortable in Atlanta Braves Uni
It’s never easy being in the position of following a legend. Freddie Freeman was the face of the Atlanta Braves franchise for over a decade, winning a league MVP and bringing home a world championship to Atlanta. He was almost universally loved, and comparisons between he and Olson began before Olson had even stepped into the box wearing a Braves uniform. It’s human nature that this tremendous level of pressure could lead to performance issues.
After dropping his K% to a career low of 16.8% in 2021 that number ballooned 23.6% last season. This could have been due to a tactical choice to increase his swing speed or it could have been the product of a player pressing to make an impact. Here’s hoping it was the later and that after a year as an Atlanta Brave Olson feels more comfortable in his role with the team.
Matt Olson’s “Shift” in Fortunes
Major League Baseball announced a series of rule changes that are scheduled to go into effect this season. One of those is the removal of the defensive shift. According to the new rule, teams must have four infielders on the dirt at the time of the pitch and two infielders on each side of second base. These changes should benefit Olson who ranked 8th in MLB in exit velocity and 11th in hard hit % but only managed a pedestrian .325 on base percentage and a .240 average.
According to Savant, hitters faced the shift more often than Matt Olson who was shifted in 81.3% of all of his at bats. Of the hitters with at least 500 qualifying plate appearances, only 5 hitters were shifted more than Olson. The league average for left-handed hitters was 55%. Against the shift, Olson had an wOBA of .339 but displayed a much higher .370 when he was not shifted. Keeping the defense more balanced should allow for a larger percentage of hard-hit balls to the right side of the diamond to turn into hits rather than outs.
Matt Olson’s first season with the Atlanta Braves was full of peaks and valleys. The Braves are hopeful that a higher level of comfort and changes in the rules of the game can unlock the potential they see in Olson to be one of the best hitters in the league.