For the last two decades, the Atlanta Braves have been spoiled at first base. That said, the emergence of Matt Olson has Atlanta confident until the 2029 season. Since being traded, Olson has progressively become more comfortable in becoming a threat for power and contact.
Hitting fourth in a lineup that protects him with Austin Riley, Marcel Ozuna, and Ozzie Albies allowed Atlanta the damage he can do when pitches come his way. While he was already a great ball player, 2023 may have proved to be his breakout season.
Matt Olson's record shattering season
The beginning of the season started with a bang. Olson had two homers, three RBIs, and four hits in his first two games. The Braves lineup was surging (as they would most of the year), beating up a rebuilding Nationals team. The power was undeniable for Olson, and the hitters around him made sure he was seeing quality pitches.
Yet, strikeouts still plagued the first baseman as he struggled to find the balance of power vs. contact. Where he got off to a hot start, he saw 75 strikeouts in the first two months of the season. By the end of May, Olson saw his average dip to .233 after sitting in the .300's for most of April. Nevertheless, the Braves were still winning, and the first baseman had notched 17 home runs.
Even in the slump, he was contributing offensively. Hitting coach Kevin Seitzer knew Olson could unlock a new level with a few tweaks to his approach in the batter's box. In particular, his hands stared open towards the plate with his bat relatively straight in the air.
The shift came to keeping his hands high where he was comfortable but stacking his stance with more bend to prevent swaying back. The adjustments drastically reduced his pull rate and decreased his Whiff% by 17% from March to July.
The beginning of his resurgence and overall power numbers were enough to get Olson to his second All-Star game. Heading into the second half of the season, Matt propelled himself into the MVP discussion. Between July 14 and October 1, Olson slugged 25 homers paired with 67 RBI. His average shot up to .321 over that timeframe while slugging .649, both up 67 and 78 points respectively compared to before the All-Star break.
The Atlanta native became a near-impossible out setting a franchise record for consecutive games with an RBI. Between July 28th and August 8th, Olson knocked in 20 runs and slugged an astonishing .974. Furthermore, on August 10th he became the fastest Brave to reach 40 home runs in a season.
In a franchise with renowned hitters such as Hank Aaron, Andruw Jones, and Dale Murphy, Olson became only the second Brave to reach 50 homers in a season, eventually passing Jones for the most in Braves' history. The accolades didn't stop there, as he passed Eddie Mathew's franchise record for the most runs batted in during the live ball era.
After a regular season showcasing one of the best batting orders in MLB history, Olson saw himself victim in the Braves playoff slump. In sixteen at-bats, getting four hits and scoring one run. Hitting is sometimes considered contagious, and unfortunately, those five games were a problem for the whole order. While hitting was not in the cards, he did receive the final out on a spectacular double play to end game two.
The adjustments Matt made over the season give the Braves a lot to be excited about for the future. Even with a shakey few months, Olson led the MLB in home runs, RBIs, and top three in slugging. He was a vital member of the Braves lineup and should be for many years to come. Heading into the 2023 season, it will be critical for Matt to keep utilizing the whole plate and becoming a tougher out.
As the MVP candidates were released yesterday, many could say Olson was a snub considering leading the league in home runs and RBIs. However, in a stacked field, the Braves can be confident he represented the team at the highest level and may have been considered MVP in previous years.
The upcoming 2024 season has the Braves as potential World Series favorites, and Olson's success is critical for keeping the team's hopes alive.