January 29, 2023

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Blueprint for Olson turnaround? Look to Maddux

3 min read

This story was excerpted from Mark Bowman’s Braves Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

One of the many enlightening things I heard Greg Maddux discuss over the years was the pressure he felt after he signed his five-year, $28 million deal with the Braves before the 1993 season. Now, we all know he ended up winning the second of four straight National League Cy Young Awards that year. And we know that he was about as calm, cool and collected as they come.

But during the first few weeks of his first season in Atlanta, he felt some added pressure.

Knowing it could happen to a legend like Maddux has likely made it easier for me to understand what guys like Matt Olson have experienced after signing a new contract with a new team.

Through this season’s first two months, Olson has had to deal with the pressure of succeeding Freddie Freeman. The suburban Atlanta native was blessed when his hometown team gave him an eight-year, $168 million contract. But there is a natural desire to want to live up to the big contract, and there are responsibilities that come with the comforts of playing close to home.

“You want to go out and you want to play well,” Olson said. “It’s no secret that I’ve been scuffling a little bit. You do what you can to bring the emotions down a little bit and get back to business.”

Olson started the season on fire, slumped over the past month and anxiously awaited the thrill he felt when he hit a go-ahead homer in the sixth inning of Tuesday’s win over the Phillies.

“Sometimes that’s all it takes, to square one up and feel good,” Olson said.

It certainly felt like Olson just needed a moment like this to help him relax. The 28-year-old first baseman seemed to find instant comfort when he hit .452 with a 1.280 OPS through his first 12 games. But he entered Tuesday having batted .167 with a .599 OPS over the 30 games that followed.

“People have no idea everything these guys go through with something like that,” manager Brian Snitker said. “There are a lot of extenuating things they had never had to deal with before.”

Some guys find instant success in a new environment and others need time to get their footing. Olson’s home run on Tuesday night has a chance to be one of those moments that could turn things around. This is a guy who hit at least 29 homers each of the past three 162-game seasons and he constructed a .911 OPS while hitting 39 homers for the A’s last year.

Olson entered Thursday hitting .244 with a .273 expected batting average. His .433 slugging percentage was also lower than his .465 expected slugging percentage. These numbers indicate he has been burdened by tough luck.

So, there’s even more reason to expect to see him go on a tear as the next few weeks elapse and he distances himself from the often inevitable pressure.

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