Two years ago, in game six of the World Series, Freeman hit a home run in his last at-bat in a Braves uniform. Joe Buck mentioned that it would maybe be his last bat in a Braves uniform, but it didn't feel like that would ever be a reality.
Fast forward a few months, inching toward the 2022 season, Freeman still wasn't signed. General Manager Alex Anthopoulos and Freeman's agent at the time, Casey Close, couldn't seem to strike a deal to keep the long-time legend in an Atlanta uniform.
With time slipping, Anthopoulos had to prepare, leading to a five-player trade for Oakland all-star, Matt Olson. The trade took up Freeman's spot, leaving him to return home to southern California, joining the Dodgers.
Understandably, Braves fans were in shock, not that Olson was a bad replacement, but losing your star first basemen after all the amazing years Freeman had put in. Nevertheless, the Braves knew they were spoiled at the three position for almost a decade and a half, and it was going to continue. The trade solidified the first base until the 2029 season at the earliest.
While Olson, had a good 2022 season, 2023 has been on another level. Matt currently has the most RBIs, is second in home runs, and third in slugging percentage. The Atlanta native has put himself in the National League MVP conversation with Ronald Acuña Jr., Mookie Betts, and of course, Freddie Freeman. Yet, has either of the first basemen really outplayed each other?
Comparing 2023 between Olson and Freeman
When looking at the two players, it is easy to notice the differences in approaches and styles of hitting. Olson is looking to mash all pitchers, and has added much more contact and patience to his game. Freddie has always been one of the toughest outs at the plate, with an incredible feel for the zone. Yet their numbers both show how they have helped their teams to be two of the best in the MLB.
2023 has been about the return of Acuña, and the power of Olson for the Braves. Similarly, the Dodgers have relied on Mookie and Freeman to carry them to their success. Witnessing four record-breaking seasons in the NL, it is interesting to see three have a Braves connection, and the external controversy between the current and former first basemen.
Matt Olson at a Glance
Matt Olson currently has 43 home runs, leading the National League, and only second to Shohei Otani. Although Matt had a solid pre-season and first series, he had a slower April to mid-June. His average dropped all the way to .227 multiple times, and was struggling with pitches high & inside. Yet, Olson was hitting the ball hard, drilling over 20 home runs, but the strikeouts prevented him from taking off. What has noticeably changed over the course of this season is his ability to wait on finding his pitch.
In an MLB Film Room Segment, Harold Reynolds and Corbin Mayburn broke down what has changed in Olson's ability to reach all pitches. The adjustment has been subtle, slightly leaning his bat back, and relaxing his elbows, but keeping his stance relatively the same. What the gradual adjustments have done is allow him to turn his bat quicker, while preventing his hands from being a target. The shift has been clear regarding both his strikeouts and average.
Before the all-star game, Olson had 29 games in which there were at least two strikeouts. Since the break, there have been only 8 games with multiple K's, and his average has increased by 17 points. The ability to hit the right pitch, paired with his power, has transformed him from a good all-star to a potential MVP.
While it helps to have consistent hitters batting in front of Olson for batting runs in, he is also on pace to break the franchise home run record set by Andruw Jones. Furthermore, he is in the top 5% of the league for exit velo, max EV, slugging, weighted on-base average, hard hit %, and walks. The numbers show when he is making contact, he is absolutely smashing it.
Defensively, Olson has struggled a bit, with a -6 outs against average, and eight errors. Yet with his new approach, Olson has made the Braves much more dangerous. He is batting .271 vs both righties and lefties, getting on base at persistent rate, and a top contributor to the most potent offense in baseball.
Freddie Freeman at a Glance
Freddie Freeman is doing this year what he has been doing his whole career, consistent hitting and solid defense. The 13-year vet is batting .337 with 24 homers and 87 RBIs. While he does not hit for the same power as Olson, he has the ability to shoot the ball anywhere on the field.
When watching Freddie, his strength is his approach and overall high baseball IQ. The gap, if we are to nit-pick, is that he is not able to drive the ball for as much power preventing further run support. While the Dodgers do not get on base as much as the Braves, they are still second for getting runners on the paths. Freeman does not do the same damage while batting in a similar position to Matt. On the other hand, Olson does not keep rallies going at the same pace, but is frequently able to hit for overpower pitchers with runners aboard.
Freeman currently leads the league in hits and is on pace to break the record for doubles. He is second in OBP and average. All while being top five in WAR, SLG%, total bases, and OPS. Over the last thirty games, he is slashing an impressive .370. Defensively, he has only allowed one error and has a fielding percentage of .999. Time after time, he has made solid defensive plays that complement his offensive output, cementing his path to hall-of-fame status.
What Matt and Freddie have done this year would most likely propel them to an MVP in most seasons. Giving up Freddie was difficult, but Olson has made the transition much smoother than anyone could have anticipated. 2023 has shown a leveling out between the two players.
This season, Olson has already broken the franchise record for RBIs and is on pace to surpass Andruw Jones for home runs. Come October, we will see if he can keep his current pace, and remain a cornerstone for the Braves' success. Atlanta has the deepest starting lineup in the league, and Olson's strength makes him an uncomfortable matchup for any pitcher. Nevertheless, Freeman's pace and story will always lead to comparisons between the two.