Matt Olson is terrific at baseball. General manager Alex Anthopolous needed to hit a home run of his own to replace someone as iconic as Freddie Freeman. Throughout the first ten games of the season, he’s done that and a lot more. Olson has been the offensive lifeblood of an Atlanta Braves team that has lacked in the department. The Atlanta native playing the head of a three-tiered wall of doom with Austin Riley and Marcell Ozuna has delighted fans. Their combined power and precision have made waves against opposition so far. Add in Ozzie Albies’s continued resurgence and the return of one Ronald Acuna Jr., and you have the makings of another World Title contender.
However, we’re not here to speak of them. We’re here to talk of Olson, who has tormented pitchers this season. True, the sample size is somewhat minuscule. Considering his new team and the new environment, what he’s accomplished so far is rather impressive. It happens very often that new players jump into a fiery pit of their own making. They stumble offensively and defensively, leading to torrid heckling from crowds and the mistrust of their teammates. Not so with Matt Olson, who is thriving in his new home. Let’s dive into some of the deeper statistics and find out why.
Regular Season Stats
First thing’s first, the superficial stats. Olson is hitting a blistering .412 (14-for-34), ranking in the top five in the National League so far. That’s coming from someone whose projected batting average in 2022, according to ZIPS, was .273. So, we can firmly establish that Olson is miles ahead of that. Those 14 hits are leading the league. While his power has not fully manifested, he has hit his first two Braves homers. He’s also slugging at a .676 clip, good for seventh in the rankings. He has three doubles and seven runs scored as well. All in all, things are going terrific in this area.
A Patient Power Hitter
The one thing that has impressed this writer the most is Olson’s ability to remain patient at the plate. Again, this is someone who does not hit for average initially. His job has mostly been to poke the ball a very long way. One might expect him to strike out plenty of times. However, this has not been the case. His 11 walks are among the best in the league. He’s also earning a free pass 1.375 times for every strikeout he records. His ability to push opposing pitchers is well displayed, as he has seen, on average, 4.400 pitches per plate appearance. He’s tied with the San Diego Padres’ Luke Voit as having seen the second most pitches in the league (173).
Swinging with Authority & Success
Aside from his patience, Matt Olson has also shown that he’s not afraid to swing with authority when needed. Despite only having two homers, he ranks in the 97th percentile regarding average exit velocity. His actual mark of 94.8 miles per hour places him staunchly in seventh. Additionally, his hard-hit percentage (61.5 percent) is seventh. Ironically, his teammates Adam Duvall and Marcell Ozuna are right ahead of him. He also averages 8.9 percent when it comes to barrels per plate appearance. While this isn’t near the top ten, it is good enough to land him in the top 25.
All of this offensive success has also helped boost his expected statistics. Currently, his expected batting average sits at a walloping .406. It would be somewhat miraculous if he could pull this off, but one must wonder at his current rate (and with small sample sizes disregarded). It’s fifth in the league, trailing former Brave Joc Pederson and the Texas Rangers’ Jonah Heim. Olson’s xwOBA sits at .517, tying him with Victor Reyes of the Detroit Tigers for fifth-best in baseball. Yet another astounding thing about Olson is that, among these leaders, he has some of the slimmest margins between his current output and his expectations. For instance, his actual average is 0.006 points higher than his XBA. This shows that fans should always expect him to hit close to where he needs to be, no matter where he goes from here.
Matt Olson By Pitch
When broken down by pitch selection, Matt Olson’s trajectory becomes apparent. His best work has been done against fastballs (.368 avg, .632 slugging). Now, this is nothing new, as in 2021, Olson hit .287, with 25 of his 39 homers coming against the pitch. Yet, teams continued to throw it to him, as over 57 percent of the deliveries he saw were fastballs. The trend has continued into this season (58.4 percent fastballs). While Olson being new to the league needs to be factored in, it does make one question why he continues to see them. Historically, he has struggled mightily against breaking pitches. Again, his torrid start to 2022 speaks against this. Nonetheless, it does cause a spark of curiosity that opposing coaches can only answer.
A Valuable Player, Even Outside The Zone
Yet another fascinating layer to Matt Olson’s offensive success is his run value on pitches well out of the strike zone. He’s posted a +4 run value so far this season. His importance in the “chase” zone is +3, and he’s seen 23% of pitches hit that mark. He’s also taken 90% of these deliveries, zeroing in on the 10 perc that miss and walloping them. When pitches are dead center, he’s posted a -2 run value—considering his unconventional batting stance, his ability to crush pitches where most batters usually chase and miss shouldn’t be surprising. However, it is still big-league pitching. Nothing should be taken for granted.
Matt Olson Is A Terrific Replacement
All in all, Matt Olson has placed himself within the good graces of Braves Country by having this beginning. Replacing a beloved legend cannot be the easiest of tasks. Olson has taken to his with all the offensive prowess that the team expects of him. While his defense has been unspectacular, and he runs…shall we say…slowly, his bat has been more than enough. Given some time, the rest should start falling into place.