Matt Olson is not only in the midst of his best season with the Atlanta Braves, but also the best season of his career. He just hit his 50th home run of the season, being one shy of the Braves record, but it goes beyond just the power.
Olson’s currently hitting a home run once per every 10.9 at bats, which would be second all-time (in a single season) in a long Braves franchise behind the legend Hank Aaron who hit one every 10.5 at bats in 1971. In that season Aaron had an incredible season, but only played 139 games.
So, obviously, we have seen a power increase this season for Olson. He has turned doubles into home runs plus some.
Last season, in 699 plate appearances, Olson had a slash line of .240/.325/.477 with 34 HR, 44 doubles, and a wRC+ of 120 (20.0 percent better than league average). Olson got some unwarranted heat from fans due to him taking over for a fan favorite in Freddie Freeman, but ultimately he had an above average year offensively.
This season has been significantly better. As of the time of this writing, he already has 50 home runs with a 26 doubles and a slash line of .279/.386/.614 and a 161 wRC+. His slugging leads the league and his average and on base percentage are both career highs by a significant margin. His career batting average is .255 and career on base percentage is .350.
So, what has changed for Olson this year?
First, we can say right of the bat that the limited shift has something to do with it. In 2022, Olson faced the shift 81.3 percent of the time. Only nine hitters faced the shift more than he did.
He only had 129 plate appearances with no shift in 2022, but his wOBA of .370 was significantly higher than the .338 he had in 561 plate appearances against the shift.
Of course, that would be naïve to just chalk it off to the shift and move on. Olson has made adjustments of his own.
His xwOBA has jumped from .347 in 2022 to .397 (top 3.0 percent of MLB), his average exit velocity jumped from 92.9 to 94.6 (top 1.0 percent), his xBA jumped from .248 to .261, and his xSLG has jumped from .467 to .573 (top 2.0 percent and a career best). His xwOBA on contact has also sky rocketed from .422 to .484 (top 3.0 percent), his barrel percentage jumped from 13.6 percent to 17.5 (top 2.0 percent), and his hard hit percentage has jumped from 50.9 percent to 57.6 (top 1.0 percent).
From a high level view we can see he is hitting the ball harder and with more quality, but one area that really sticks out is that he is drawing far more walks. His walk percentage has jumped from 10.7 percent in 2022 to 14.4 percent (top 6.0 percent).
Now, let’s get a little more granular. He his using his skillset of hitting the ball extremely hard in a more effective way. He is hitting far more fly balls, while also hitting fewer grounders. His fly ball percentage has jumped from 28.4 percent in 2022 to 36.8 percent this season. Now, in 2022 his fly ball percentage was tied for his career low, but 36.8 percent this year is still far better (that is, for his skill set) than his 30.7 career average.
Olson also hit pop ups a whopping 10.0 percent of the time last season. He has cut that almost in half this season at 6.1 percent. He also has cut his 39.6 percent groundball rate down to 36.5 percent.
Not only is he hitting to his strength (fly balls), his xwOBA is up across the board on pitch types. Off speed, fastballs and breaking balls have all seen an increase in productivity.
His xwOBA of .407 against fastballs is his best since 2017 in which he only had 216 plate appearances. His .384 against off speed is much higher than the .359 he had in 2022, and .389 against breaking pitches is the highest of his career and much higher than the .317 he had in 2022.
It is impressive that we see an increase across the board, but of the three pitch types, his success against breaking pitches has been key.
First, he is chasing and missing breaking pitches at his best rate since 2016 in which he only played eleven games. His 46.1 percent is not elite by any means, but it is much better than the 51.4 percent from last season.
His hard hit percentage of 50.5 percent against breaking pitches is his highest since he had a 52.5 in 2019. Most impressively is that his barrel percentage against breaking pitches has skyrocketed. He has a 23.4 percent this season, which is easily the best of his career and far better than 13.6 percent he had in 2022.
As we know, there are multiple types of breaking pitches, and specifically Olson has made a huge adjustment to the slider.
In 2022, he had a run value added of zero against the slider. The best he ever had prior to this season was five in five in 2021. This season, he has a twelve. This places tied for third in MLB. The only players better have been Adolis Garcia with fourteen, and Ronald Acuña Jr. with thirteen.
Against the slider, he has a .273 batting average, .657 slugging, and .424 wOBA. Of those with at least one-hundred plate appearances, only Mookie Betts has a higher slugging percentage against the pitch, and five players have a higher wOBA. Interestingly, three of the five have played for the Braves at some point in Freddie Freeman, William Contreras, and Ronald Acuña Jr.
His XSTATS support his production for the most part with an xBA of .262, xSLG of .649, and xwOBA of .417.
In a nutshell, Matt Olson is hitting the ball harder and with better quality across all pitch types while also drawing more walks.
The limited shift has helped some, but Olson has also made incredible adjustments. The biggest adjustment is that he converted one of his worst pitches he faced in the slider, and was able to become elite at hitting it.