Oakland A’s: Expect Big Things From Matt Olson in 2021

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 05: Matt Olson #28 of the Oakland Athletics reacts after striking out against the Houston Astros during the eighth inning in Game One of the American League Division Series at Dodger Stadium on October 05, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 05: Matt Olson #28 of the Oakland Athletics reacts after striking out against the Houston Astros during the eighth inning in Game One of the American League Division Series at Dodger Stadium on October 05, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images) /
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One thing to consider is that 2020 was a bizarre year in general. The changes and sacrifices that players made to make the 2020 season happen almost definitely impacted their onfield performance. Hitting a baseball off of major league pitching is one of the most challenging things a human can do, and one small change can have a massive impact on a swing. With new protocols to adjust to and the mental toll that this pandemic has had on players, I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt to just about every player who had a down year last season. With all that said, there are signs that a bounce-back could be in Matt Olson‘s future.

In the situations where Olson did make contact last season, the ball always seemed to find a glove, either deep into the shift or on the right-field warning track. In stat terms, he got BABIPed hard. The Silver Slugger hit a measly .220 on batted balls in play, much lower than the .292 and .300 that he posted in the two years prior. While still very low, Baseball Savant marked that he posted an expected batting average of .220. While that isn’t a number that will have people jumping out of their seats, that is still over 30 points higher than the actual batting average he posted. Olson will likely have better numbers this season just by getting luckier on balls in play, but there are other reasons to look forward to the Georgian’s fourth full season.

Finding hope that Matt Olson can rebound in 2021

Even though there were many disappointing plate appearances this past season, Olson was still able to contribute a whole lot to a division-winning A’s team. He continued to be a Gold Glove-caliber fielder, despite losing the award to Seattle rookie Evan White. Olson proved he could still knock the skin off of the baseball, hitting long balls at a pace that would equal roughly 38 home runs in a full season.

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He even improved in some areas, increasing his walk rate by over 4.5%! Olson didn’t meet expectations last year, but both fWAR and bWAR view him as an above-average player and a valuable member of a competing lineup.

Some readers might be skeptical of some of the stats I cited or hate the style of baseball Matt Olson represents, but what can I say? I guess I’m a glass-half-full guy. Matt Olson had about as terrible a year as you can have from both a contact and a batted ball luck perspective. Despite this, every other element of his game was strong enough to earn him a spot in manager Bob Melvin‘s lineup.

Even though contact has never been the corner infielder’s strength, I believe his strikeouts and his swing and miss rate will come down to something more reasonable this year. The whiff rate he posted last year was over five percent higher than his career average, and after an offseason to make adjustments, I’d expect that number to return towards his career average.

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At Matt Olson’s absolute worst, he is a player worth having in a starting lineup. At his best, he is arguably the best first baseman in the American League. The reigning AL MVP is a fellow first baseman, José Abreu. Going into the 2021 season, I think I would rather have Matt Olson handling first base for me, considering his defense, eye, and pop.  Even though his brand of baseball can be controversial at times, I am very excited to see another year of this special player in the green and gold.

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