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Matt Olson Traded to the Braves - Fantasy Impact

Many were waiting for Freddie Freeman to resign with the Braves or likely sign with the Dodgers, while others were waiting for the Yankees to trade for Matt Olson. Instead, the Braves decided to mix things up. They made an enormous splash by sending four high-end prospects to Oakland for Matt Olson. With the addition of Olson, that wrapped up the idea of Freeman returning to Atlanta and all but locked in his trip west to the Dodgers.

Olson is five years younger than Freeman and will make an excellent replacement for an Atlanta Braves legend. However, Olson's extension with the Braves was for less AAV than Freeman wanted. Olson will also be 35 when the contract is up compared to Freeman. The Braves get a younger, All-Star first baseman for less money and a longer deal—quite a replacement. 

Olson will become a staple in the Braves lineup with other young studs like Ronald Acuña Jr. and Ozzie Albies. Braves fans may be bummed to lose Freeman, but in the end, baseball is a business, and adding Olson is a great business move. The fans could not have asked for a much better option. 

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Coming Off a Career Year

Olson is coming off a career year in 2021. He hit 39 home runs with a .271 batting average and 101 runs scored while also driving in 111. He made his first All-Star team along the way and was well deserved. The overall stat line is excellent, but the adjustments Olson made at the plate impressed me. 

Last season, Olson lowered his strikeout rate to 16.8%, down from 31.4% in 2020 and 25.2% in 2019. Olson’s career strikeout rate is 23.4%. Olson lowered the strikeout rates due to some significant improvements in plate discipline. He dropped his O-swing to 28.3% (league average 31.3%) while improving his O-contact to 68.5% (league average 62.4). 

The improvements in his swing% and contact% on pitches out of the zone were significant, and that helped lead to his best SwStr rate of only 9.9%. The change in SwStr could potentially be attributed to a little more aggressiveness earlier in the count. Olson improved his first pitch swing to 27.9% last season compared to 21.4% in 2019. Being more aggressive early in the count, when more pitchers may be throwing pitches in the zone to get an early strike, could have been a strong move for Olson. 

The improvement of balls in play and striking out less also led to his career-high .271 average. However, it was not just all power for Olson. He pulled the ball only 39.5% of the time compared to his other career year in 2019, where he pulled the ball 49.7%. At the same time, he hit more ground balls in 2021 with a 40.4% rate compared to 33.8% in 2019. Seeing so many interesting differences in Olson’s 2019 and 2021 numbers while hitting two more home runs shows just how crucial the approach at the plate was to Olson’s overall statistical gains. 

One significant difference from 2019 to 2021 was Olson’s HR/FB, 23.7% in 2019 but only 19.3% in 2021. Again, more balls in play and more efficiency at the plate allow for better production overall. Lastly, Olson had to take advantage of the meatball pitches with fewer flyballs. He did just that in 2021 by swinging at 83.9% of meatball pitches compared to only 73.9% in 2019. Olson was more disciplined and more effective outside of the zone while crushing pitches early in the count and in the zone. A recipe for a lower average and a great season. 

 

Better Ballpark Doesn’t Hurt

The improvements Olson made at the plate are great, and we have to hope they continue. Thanks to a gigantic shift in ballparks, we could be in for monster season after monster season if the gains continue. Here’s a spray chart of Olson’s 2021 season in Oakland.

As one can easily see, he could have even more home runs and just overall production, but let’s look deeper at park factor comparisons between ballparks.

Overall Overall HR LHH Overall LHH HR
Atlanta 7th 14th 8th 11th
Oakland 29th 25th 26th 23rd

Overall, Atlanta is a much better park for the offense. Still, even just looking at left-handed park factors, one can see that Atlanta is better than Oakland. Olson’s power production should improve quite a bit, but his batting average could also take some nice gains without all the foul territory in Oakland. When looking at the NL East versus the AL West, Olson will also see an overall divisional improvement in ballpark factors. No matter how you look, Olson leaving Oakland and heading to Atlanta is a massive win for his fantasy value. 

 

Conclusion

Olson has always been an OBP darling with a career 11.5% walk rate while also showcasing a ton of power. His improvements in strikeouts and just putting the ball in play last year were major game-changers. If the gains continue for Olson, he will be in line for many more All-Star appearances and should eventually make Braves fans forget their anger for losing Freeman. Lastly, Olson is also an elite defender, improving the Braves as a team. Olson to the Braves is a huge win for Atlanta and a fantasy baseball players while the rest of the Atlanta lineup retains the same level of offensive support.



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