Matt Olson

Height/Weight:6'5", 228 lbs
Position:First Base

It’s difficult to ignore a player who kicks the door down upon his debut. In what seemed like the year of the rookie, Matt Olson left a lasting impression on owners who took a chance on adding to him to their roster. Despite only playing in 59 games, Olson launched 24 home runs averaging one every 7.9 at-bats and an astronomical .392 isolated power. Olson also placed tied for 16th in average fly ball distance at 343 feet, sixth in barrels per-plate appearance (one every 9.7) and recorded 61 batted ball events with an exit velocity of 95 MPH or more in 129 appearances for a 47.3 percent rate. Impressive to say the least.

Olson’s displayed power throughout his ascension in the minor leagues culminating in his robust finish to 2017 with Oakland. As surprising as Olson’s 59 game sample was, his home ballpark ended the year ranked eighth in home runs according to Fantasy Alarm’s ballpark effects. As if this does not seem likely enough, Olson arrived in Oakland with a career .249/.364/.479 slash line but rode his power to a .259/.352/.651 line last year in the majors. Confused? Join the club.

Perhaps starting with his minor league track record, things can sort themselves out. As alluded to above, Olson’s been cranking out homers since becoming a professional averaging a home run every 19.7 at bats over six seasons and over 2,400 appearances at the plate. Very consistent. Unfortunately, his propensity to strikeout also holds during his stops along the way. Underscored by his 24% career strikeout rate in the minors, it only rose to 27.7% with Oakland last year. Olson does own some plate discipline, but when moving up a level, his walk rate decreased each year from 2014 forward.

Since this progression happens to most hitters, it’s up to the people who target Olson to discern if the positives (power and production) outweigh the inherent risk (regression and batting average). Another seemingly overlooked part of this equation, will Olson hit left-handed pitching in the majors? At Double-A in 2015, Olson held his own with a .363 on-base percentage and 10 extra-base hits in 128 at-bats in spite of only hitting .219 against them. However, at Triple-A, his on-base percentage did not eclipse .275 and he only hit five home runs and nine doubles in 170 at-bats. Also, Olson struck out 65 times against only 21 walks. It’s not to say he cannot learn to hit them going forward, but it’s a serious red flag. Tuck this away.

Due to his limited sample size, trying to digest what Olson did in 2017 along with predicting what could happen this year will be tough. Simply extrapolating his numbers for a full season would be a mistake. Underlying numbers do not seem like the foundation does not provide hope, but there’s some concern as well. Many players displayed similarities to Olson, but for the purposes of the profile, three reflected his numbers most closely. Here’s a look in chart form to some key statistical categories:

Taking these comparisons one-by-one, let’s begin with Cody Bellinger. Winning the rookie of the year only affirmed the fantasy prognosticators who took a chance on Bellinger late in drafts. Los Angeles called him up in April and he slugged his way into fantasy owner’s hearts with 25 home runs in his first 292 plate appearances. During this time frame in the first half, Bellinger’s isolated power spiked to .358 with a 30.1 home run per fly ball rate. He hit fly balls at a 48.8% rate and pulled the ball 46.6% of the time and had a hard contact of 46%. Eerily similar to Olson’s season after his call-up.

Delving deeper, Bellinger averaged a home run every 20.2 at-bats in the minors, just behind Olson’s pace, but with a .271/.352/.503 slash line. While Olson really does not incorporate speed into his game, Bellinger also swiped 10 bases. The similarities do not end here. Bellinger finished just below Olson in terms of average fly ball distance, 338 feet, but recorded 56 more batted ball events. Impressive in his own right.

One key factor to take away in this comparison is Bellinger’s hot start with power in the first half ebbed to 14 home runs after the All-Star break in 223 at-bats. He did improve upon his average and on-base percentage, but the slugging decreased. Pitchers adjust. Tuck this away.

Next on the list, Eric Thames of the Brewers. He launched 11 home runs in April justifying the trust of owners who took a chance on him after his return from South Korea. Thames carried this momentum through May 14th with his weighted runs created plus reaching an apex of 183 with 74% contact and striking out 23% of the time. This covered his first 154 plate appearances. Olson made 216 last year. His weighted runs created plus (162), contact (70%) and strikeout rate (27.7%) pale in comparison to Thames.

Due to Olson’s limited sample, here’s a chart showing Olson’s season in regards to some key underlying statistics, courtesy of

For a reference point, here’s Eric Thames for the whole season:

Note the spikes at the start of the season along with the regression which needed to occur since starts like Thames’ prove difficult to sustain. Two categories seem to be the most reliable: fly ball percentage and swinging strike percentage. Tuck this away.

Last, but not least, Olson’s 2017 looks very similar to a new teammate (at least for now) in Brandon Moss. Although Moss made his major league debut at a much later age, he burst on to the scene in 2012 in 84 games with 296 plate appearances to hit 21 home runs and carry a .291/.358/.596 slash line. Yes, the same Brandon Moss. Even though his numbers in the chart above mimic many of Olson’s, his numbers from 2012 come even closer.

During 2012, Moss finished with a 21.5 line drive percentage, hit fly balls 45.8% of the time with a .306 isolated power, a 25.9 home run per fly ball rate, pulled the ball 42.4% and a 160 weighted runs created plus. Here’s where the difference lies, Moss played the next season. Bellinger and Thames lie in the same boat as Olson, fantasy players need a larger sample to gauge value.

What can Moss’ follow-up in 2013 teach us in regards to Olson? For starters, Moss appeared in 145 games with 30 home runs and 87 RBI. His slash line dropped to .256/.337/.522, much more in line with his previous minor league seasons but he held the fly ball percentage (51.8%), the home run per fly ball rate dropped to 18.8%, his swinging strike percentage improved by two percentage points with a three point increase in contact.

Simply comparing Moss to Olson will not be fair. Olson displayed herculean power last year. With this in mind, seeing how pitchers may react this year may be relevant. Starting with Moss, here’s his total pitches seen from 2012 on the left and the following year on the right, courtesy of

Shifting to Matt Olson, his raw number of pitches will appear on the left and his home runs per ball in play in the same zones on the right:

Due to Olson’s ability to pull the ball with power, the way pitchers moved to throwing more pitches away to Moss should occur. Also, they may try to attack him high and inside to set-up the low and away pitch. Some regression will occur, especially when factoring in Olson’s career average in the minor leagues. Without giving away too much, my personal projections forecast Olson to hit 33 home runs prior to this research with 70 runs, 75 RBI and 114 hits in 477 at-bats.

Past results along with recent struggles versus left-handed pitching added in with some regression of power puts him in a tier similar to Chris Davis and Justin Bour according to my calculations. It could be too low and since his numbers align with so many different players above, the outcomes could come with a range as well. Olson’s capable of hitting 40 home runs but will need to improve versus southpaws to accrue enough at-bats to do so. If he goes through an extended adjustment period like Thames, playing time could be lost as well. And please do not forget about shifts.

Go into this year with eyes wide open. Matt Olson rewarded risk averse fantasy owners last year and owns potential to repeat. But, he could also take a career path similar to Moss. Time will tell.


Statistical Credits:,,,,

Thames May 14th numbers highlighted in this article by Jeff Sullivan: