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Why isn’t Matt Olson recognized as an elite first baseman?

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Since exploding onto the scene in 2017, Matt Olson has been an under the radar star. Matt Olson stats 2021 show he deserves more recognition alongside the game’s best first basemen.

Matt Olson Stats 2021

Playing for the Oakland Athletics doesn’t lead to stardom. Olson, too, hasn’t had a massive season like Jose Abreu’s 2020 MVP campaign. He is a constant on a reliably competitive Athletics club, though, and his stats in 2021 matchup well even with the sport’s best at his position.

Oakland is top of the AL West standings at the time of writing. Olson leads the club in OPS and has played 44 of their 50 games, only once switching to DH for a rest day.

He’s not just invaluable to his team. Olson can go toe-to-toe with any first baseman since he got to the bigs.

Only four first baseman have accumulated more fWAR since 2018 (Olson’s first full season). Two of those – Cody Bellinger, Max Muncy – play for the reigning champion Dodgers. The others have countless All-Star berths to their names in Paul Goldschmidt and Freddie Freeman.

Switch to wRC+ and Anthony Rizzo and Pete Alonso leap above Olson. Fair enough, of course, but Alonso has played almost 140 fewer games. Rizzo is only a shade ahead and strikes out much less. The Chicago Cubs left-hander has just 68 homers to Olson’s 92, however.


Olson has yet to make an All-Star team. Strength of the position and inconsistent hitting has contributed to that, but it could change in 2021. With a 153 wRC+, Olson still languishes in fourth among American League first basemen. That’s just behind AL West rival Yuli Gurriel.

He’s on course for his best full campaign in the bigs, but it might still not be enough to be an All-Star. Olson has had a bridesmaid of a career to date, in the shadows of Matt Chapman’s all-world defense on the other side of the infield, and unable to establish himself as a top tier player at his position.

This is a price paid for consistency. Olson had a so-so 2020. Even then, he was above league average at the plate. He got MVP votes in 2019. What we haven’t seen, though, is a 1.000 OPS campaign, a year where he’s legitimately an MVP contender, which is often what changes the perception of players.

Cutting strikeouts

What’s fascinating about Olson’s 2021 stats is how he’s cut down the strikeouts. The 18.2% K rate is markedly lower than any other season in his big league career (other than the 11 games in 2016). He’s still walking a lot. He’s still making load contact, sitting in the 93rd percentile in average exit velocity.

Olson’s wOBA has been lower than his xwOBA by a considerable amount in the last three seasons. That’s been flipped in 2021, which may prove to be temporary. He’s still pulling the ball as much, and facing more shifts than ever.

Perhaps this is simply some early season, against-the-shift fortune. He’s had four infield hits to the left side. There are three outfield doubles against the shift.

The shifting won’t go away. Only Carlos Santana (when batting left handed) has faced the shift more often of players with over 51 plate appearances. Olson will continue to pull the ball, and the gap between his xwOBA and wOBA is likely to shrink.

Olson’s 2021 stats show an improved approach. There’s a career best whiff rate and he’s recognize pitches better, swinging at almost 86% of ‘meatballs’. The early season results are a little better than expected, but not outrageously so.

Cutting strikeouts in 2021 is remarkable. Few hitters have done that. Doing so while hitting the ball as hard as ever is particularly impressive. If 2020 was a down year, Olson is back with a bang in 2021, and he will hopefully be rewarded with an All-Star berth. Maybe then he’ll finally get the recognition he deserves.

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