First Pitch: Matt Olson doesn’t need to be Freddie Freeman for Braves to succeed

Matt Olson will always be compared to his predecessor in a Braves uniform, Freddie Freeman. But he needs to round into his old form for Atlanta to reach their ultimate goal.

The Braves traded for Olson last offseason, thus nixing negotiations on a potential Freeman return in the process. It was harsh business, but what needed to be done from Alex Anthopoulos’ point of view.

By now you know the timeline — and that Freeman fired his agent shortly after his visit back to Atlanta to receive his World Series ring and play his former teammates in a Dodgers uniform.

Since then, Freeman has made an impact in Los Angeles, emerging as an NL All-Star and one of the best hitters in baseball yet again. While the Braves should make the playoffs as an NL Wild Card team at the very least, the same cannot be said for Olson.

Braves: Matt Olson is struggling, but why?

Olson will never say it, but the weight if replacing a team legend isn’t easy. Freeman could very well have his number retired with the Braves one day. Olson returned home to Georgia and immediately signed an eight-year contract to replace him.

What has followed is a season full of peaks and valleys. Olson is slashing .234/.319/.455 with an OPS of .774. Olson’s wRC+, as of Wednesday, was 112. That’s not awful, but it pales in comparison to last year’s value of 148, which topped even Freeman.

Olson is younger, he’s from the area and he was coming off his first All-Star caliber season. It was a no-brainer for the Braves to trade for him at the time, and the deal still looks beneficial from Atlanta’s perspective given the prospects sent back to Oakland haven’t worked out so far.

But one has to ask: Is this the Matt Olson Atlanta thought they were acquiring?

His September slump hasn’t made matters easier. Olson had a wRC+ of 125 entering September, only to have that number drop, and the month is nearly over.

The root cause of Olson’s struggles in September are his strikeout percentage, which has increased by nearly seven percent from 2021’s mark on the year. His line drive rate is also way down on the month, and his fly ball rate is up, which speaks to Olson trying to do too much to make up for lost time.

Tomahawk Take’s Jake Mastroianni pointed this out in a recent column:

“It’s really hard to explain why his batting average is 36 points lower than it was a year ago. Especially when considering the fact his .271 BABIP is two points higher than last year.

The only thing you can really point to is that his K% is up to 23.8 percent this year compared to just 16.8 percent last year. And his whiff% — particularly on fastballs — is up significantly.”

The Braves will need Matt Olson this postseason

As talented as the Braves are, they will need Olson’s contributions this postseason if they are to repeat.

A talented rotation and lineup must make up for some recent bullpen struggles. Kenley Jansen is no longer automatic.

Olson does not have to be Freeman — nor should fans have that expectation. It’s easy to compare and contrast, especially when that ex-Brave is playing for perhaps their biggest competition come playoff time.

If Olson can get on base at a decent clip, avoid unnecessary strikeouts and continue to make solid contact, odds are his numbers will increase to the norm. The playoffs are a new season entirely, Olson ought to treat it as such.

There is only one Freddie Freeman. There is only one Matt Olson. They are separate entities entirely.