I’m alright
Nobody worry ’bout me
Why you got to gimme a fight?
Can’t you just let it be?

Kenny Loggins’ theme song to Caddyshack

Saturday Night Live premiered in 1975. The cast members became overnight stars and household names. But first among equals was Chevy Chase; he was featured in a cover story in New York magazine as the guy with the obvious superstar future. Because Chevy was actually hired as a writer, not as a performer, he had a clause in his contract which allowed him to leave after his first season, so, as the most famous crew member given a chance to leverage his fame into big bucks, he exercised his option and walked early in the 2nd season.

It is fair to say his replacement was initially disliked. People liked Chevy Chase and the new guy was different. He joined a group that had learned to work together and he had to meld his skills with theirs. And he was not nearly as histrionic as Chevy; compared to Chevy Chase’s pratfalls while pretending to be Gerald Ford, the new guy did very little physical comedy. He was more deadpan, less crowd-pleasing. He was… a disappointment. He was not given much to do early on.

He was, of course, Bill Murray [LOL… the automatic linker links to a guy who got 21 at-bats for the Senators in 1917. This is a different guy.] and his career has far outstripped the career of Chevy Chase even though Chevy Chase has made a lot of money as an actor.  He became an integral part of SNL and a beloved cast member and an Oscar winner and the best part of Zombieland.  (I think his work in Caddyshack was inferior to Chase’s, but most people disagree with me.) But even six episodes in, he was still obscure enough and sufficiently misunderstood vis-a-vis the star that was Chevy Chase that he could deliver this monologue:

The New Guy

Anyway… I have no idea why I told this story, because I’m supposed to be writing about Matt Olson. And I’m pretty sure Olson isn’t very funny at all. This is the problem with having no editor (this is Ryan. I’m an editor, but not very good at editing people who are past my help…jk, JF).

As I said a few weeks ago in my piece on the infield, Freddie and Matt do different things.  But rather than compare their 2022 seasons, let’s compare Freddie’s age-28 season (2018) with Matt’s 2022. They both played in every game, had almost the same number of at-bats and plate appearances, and played in the same home park, so you can just about compare any numbers that suit your fancy. My take: Freddie hit for a much higher average (an extra hit every 3 games) and Matt hit a lot more homers (about one more every three weeks) and struck out a lot more (about once more every 4 games).  That’s it.  If you look at the Pitches section towards the bottom of the link, the only real difference is that Freddie makes more contact.  But when Matt makes contact, the ball travels a little farther (check the Ratio section; a flyball hit by Matt is twice as likely to be a homer.)

Oh, and they both had four playoff games. And Matt’s were much better than Freddie’s. That means nothing, but to those for whom it does, there you go.

So, just to finish up the first year’s accounting:

  • Freddie makes $27 million, Olson makes $15 million and we spend $2.4 million on the signing bonus to competitive balance pick JR Ritchie. Net savings: $9.6 million this year alone. And the Braves will save $5-6 million per year every year going forward. That sort of money can buy a lot of fungible relief pitchers until you find the ones who know how to pitch that year.
  • Freddie generates 5.9 bWAR, Olson generates 3.3 bWAR. Both teams finish in first place and much farther apart head-to-head than the 2.6 win difference. Had the Braves fallen short to the Mets, though, this might have proven important. In any case, both teams lose their first round NLDS playoff series to teams in their own divisions.
  • Of the players lost in the Olson trade, only Pache and Langeliers have reached the majors. Both performed at almost exactly replacement level. Langeliers, at least this year had he not been traded, would have performed exactly the role of Chadwick Tromp (if that), and Pache’s presence ahead of Harris would have almost surely cost the Braves the NL East.

So even in his first year, Olson was a perfectly good substitute for Freddie Freeman. He wasn’t as good a player, but he was cheaper (even if the money ended up wasted on signing Jake Odorizzi) and the loss of Pache serendipitously freed up the Braves to learn just how good Michael Harris II is. So far, we have nothing to complain about from the jettisoning of Freddie and the trade for Matt.

Could it all turn out badly? Sure. (Olson’s most comparable through age 28 is Chris Davis. Ouch.) Does it look fine so far? Yes. It may be possible one day to discuss Matt Olson without comparing his arc with Freddie Freeman’s, but I don’t think that day is coming any day soon. That’s really unfair to Matt, but it’s just the way it is. At least he’s not under pressure to carry the team — the rest of the team is too good to give him that burden.

Nonetheless, some people were disappointed in Matt’s season. They surely won’t be disappointed in the substitution if Matt’s ages 29-31 trajectories mirror Freddie’s. Welcome home, Matt. Bill Murray is calling on line 2.