2022 Braves Player Review: Matt Olson

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.

Author: JonathanF

Alive since 1956. Braves fan since 1966. The first ten years were pretty much wasted. Exiled to Yankees/Mets territory in 1974 --- bearable only with TBS followed by MLB.TV.

32 thoughts on “2022 Braves Player Review: Matt Olson”

  1. Gosh, I’m not sure I’d ever seen that Bill Murray monologue, or if I had, it’s been enough years to not know the difference. That comparison… actually helps.

    The issue with Matt Olson, for me, is that he was less a poor man’s Freddie, and more of a rich man’s LaRoche. His bat disappeared for weeks (months) at a time as he was visibly, obviously fighting it. His discomfort, strain at failing to meet high expectations, disappointment, and uncertainty of how to be his best in the hometown spotlight, were at least as distracting in their way as Freddie’s yearlong sob saga of how he wasn’t sure he wanted to be where he wound up. (If I were as much of a film buff as my friends think I am, I would have called it an Erik Rohmer film — Chris Rock remade one of them the other year as I Think I Love My Wife, just so I’m not hiding an obscure allusion — but I’ve never actually seen any of his movies. Then again, I’m not sure any of you have, either, so it would have been a useless stray comment, but it’s the kind of thing my friends hear me do all the time.)

    You’ve made a good case for the Olson trade, I think: Olson’s salary was reasonable enough and the players we traded were essentially surplus value to the club to the point that he was a good player even if he produced at a 3.5 win level. But 2022 was basically Olson’s second-worst year in the majors, behind only the miserable COVID-shortened campaign in 2020. It’s fair to expect a dead-cat bounce back to his typical 4-5 wins, if not a Freddie Freeman-style jump to a slightly higher plateau.

    But the 3.5 win guy we watched, whose swing mechanics had a tendency of getting out of whack for weeks on end while the player morosely struggled to put together good at-bats and occasionally struggled even to catch balls over at first… I think he and I both hope we don’t see that guy this year. Olson’s baseball card says he’s a better player than he was last year, and a lot of his struggles really felt like they were between his ears. This offseason, I hope he does whatever he needs to build his internal confidence. He’s gonna be in Atlanta a real long time. I’d like him to be as good as he can be.

  2. Thank you, JonathanF, a beautiful piece.
    The quality of all you writers on this blog is mind boggling. So entertaining.
    Matt Olson will be fine. Seemed to me like he pressed at times and I just think he will be more relaxed in his second year. On top of that, he seems like a real good guy and I for one love that the Braves are full of ‘real good guys’.
    Great point on Langeliers and Pache. We kept the better prospects with Contreras and Harris II.
    AA knows what he’s doing.

  3. If only we could get Freeman back and let Freeman and Olson switch between DH and 1B (Freeman mostly at 1st for the next few years). It will never happen, but one can dream.

  4. Such a great point about moving Pache so Harris could play instead. Honestly, if you add that to the trade calculus then that 2.6WAR difference pretty much goes away. If Harris is close to what he was this year and Olson gets that dead cat bounce then the combo really is better than keeping Freeman. If you go back and evaluate that trade as Freeman/Langeliers/Pache for Olson/Contreras/Harris it begins to look very very good.

  5. Well, Harris was already in the organization and had possibly already lapped Pache in the org depth charts. Even if they re-signed Freddie, Harris was likely going to get the next telephone call as soon as someone in the outfield got injured. The fact that Harris had already made Pache expendable doesn’t add to the return we got for him.

  6. Yeah I don’t think Pache was ever “ahead” of Harris in the Braves’ eyes. The good fortune (?) last year was that our entire outfield was garbage for the first part of the season, forcing the issue earlier than anyone expected.

  7. My opinion about Pache was simply based on the fact that he probably deserved another MLB look, having been brought up so early, and the Braves probably would have given it to him. Even if Harris was ‘ahead’ in some sense, they’d still have a service time interest in holding him back a year – he was the youngest MLB player last year. Even if Pache had only gotten two weeks of play, do you doubt the Braves would have lost an extra game over that two weeks? I don’t. And it’s quite likely he’d have gotten at least as much time as Demeritte. And if Demeritte was ahead of Harris (and he was) you can be sure Pache was.

  8. I don’t think the Braves will come to regret the trade for Olson. I do think they’ll regret not extending Freeman before free agency, and I do think there’s a reasonable chance that the Olson contract is regrettable.

  9. Say goodbye to pink swords.

  10. And another move and I’m not fond of this one.

  11. I liked Stephens too, but there’s a not insignificant chance we’ll see him again. Journeyman RHP middle relievers have a knack for turning up again, just like that fella we re-signed a couple days ago.

  12. I don’t know who Dennis Santana is, but you can figure if the Braves like him better than Jackson Stephens, he must be all right. And if they like him better than Jackson Stephens and cash, he’s probably fixing to win a Cy Young award.

  13. Hilliard and Santana are the very epitome of tweaking at the edges. Hilliard and Heredia are very similar except Hilliard is younger and has a bit more power. Santana’s FIP is ever so slightly lower then Stephens’ and he’s a bit younger with a power sinker (nice to have if Dansby sticks around). Given the fact that either or both of Heredia and Stephens might stick around on MiLB deals, it’s just upping the ante a bit.

  14. I don’t mind the Santana deal. I just wanted Stephens on this team as the last man out of the pen. He wore that role well.

  15. Looking at his season and career stats, it is hard for me to imagine any major league team wanting Santana. I guess the same thing could have been said about picking up Jackson Stephens last year, so apparently they know what they are doing.

  16. On Santana: Big velo jump this year. My guess is AA is wagering he’ll be able to control it better in 2023z

    On Hilliard: Fangraphs put a piece up on him discussing how he was one of the most negatively impacted players in baseball from the shift. We shall see if that holds true.

  17. Actually, Rohmer’s Pauline à la plage (Pauline at the Beach, 1983) is a pretty good film. Young love and all that.

  18. Santana if he can improve is probably better than Stephens. The Braves are betting on their abilities to fix RPs. If you’re going to bet on something as the Braves, that’s a good place to start.

  19. This is one of the more jarring things I’ve read recently.

    • The Braves are not considering trading right fielder Ronald Acuña Jr. — or, for that matter, any other young player they have signed to an extension.

    While the club, as a matter of policy, does not award no-trade clauses, a player who signs an extension does it with the implicit understanding he will not be traded. Obviously, things can change — a player, for example, eventually might want out. But if the Braves break the trust they’ve created internally, players will become more resistant to the extensions that have positioned the team for long-term success.

    https://theathletic.com/3896331/2022/11/14/rosenthal-mlb-free-agency-rumors/

    Uh… what? What is this paragraph in response to? Who was suggesting that they might trade Ronald?

  20. I think some Twitter troll paid $8 to get verified and was spouting nonsense, presumably to make a point about the flaws in allowing people to get verified for $8. I saw essentially the same wording with Austin Riley’s name in it as well. It looks like people ran with it.

  21. @23
    It was discussed on MLB Network and another guy with a “source”.

    However, I’ve had a source before and have one now. He’s a real person! They’ve fed me things that came to fruition:
    1. I knew about Brian McCann coming back to the Braves about 2 weeks before it happened.
    2. I knew Francoeur took a job as a broadcaster 4-5 days before it happened.

    Then, there was other news that was shared with me that didn’t come to fruition:
    1. Braves offered Bryce Harper $6/180MM and thought, at one point, he was going to accept it.

    I don’t think the Acuña thing is a full on lie, rather there’s probably been whispers around the league that he’s tough to handle, whether it’s true or not. Me personally, I can’t fathom that AA would even entertain trading him, but it wouldn’t surprise me to hear that a teammate got a little tipsy and started slinging dirt. I know a guy close to the team and he said that he’s inseparable from Ozuna and that’s no there’re some of his teammates.

    What’s true? What’s not? Gosh, I have no idea. But that first source? She was pure gold and gave me inside information that she didn’t even know was news and that’s the most wonderful kind of source.

  22. Just a bit surprised that Strider didn’t get a single down ballot CY young vote.
    It was a historic season, even if the innings were low.

  23. I thought he deserved votes but maybe there’s a rookie penalty among the voters. I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t get at least one MVP vote.

  24. There was also this recent thing–a miscommunication? Ronald testing his limits?–re: working out with his hometown winter ball team vs actually playing in games with them, where he and the Braves quickly managed a compromise solution.

    DOB has also suggested he could use a positive influence. Seems credible that he’s tricky to manage, but I’m sure we all agree that trading him is hard to fathom.

  25. Trading RAJ? Hard to fathom. He’s a world-class talent.

    Tricky to manage? Easy to fathom. He has his moments.

    Nonetheless, I suspect he’ll bounce back big.

    JonF,
    Did you read that SNL book by Tom Shales?

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