If the season ended today, Braves first baseman Matt Olson would be a National League MVP candidate. Olson leads the Major Leagues in home runs (43), RBIs (107) and ranks second in slugging percentage (.621).
In a recent interview with MLB.com at Citi Field, Olson answered a wide range of topics from the Braves’ success this season to naming the NL MVP.
MLB.com: You have always put up nice numbers in the past, but this year is different. Why?
Matt Olson: I have had a decent amount of success, so far. Each year is going to be a little different. At the end of the day, you hope to just grow as a player, continue to work and fine-tune things. The goal is, the work leads to more results.
MLB.com: Let me put it another way. You are not striking out as often lately.
Olson: I was striking out a lot to start the season.
MLB.com: What changed?
Olson: It was a combination of things. I did realize that I was maybe swinging too hard, taking some off-balance swings. But what I think is the biggest thing is, I was missing a lot of pitches early in the count, swinging through them, fouling them off. I don’t know if it was a conscious effort to dial it back a little bit or if my swing is in a better place. But a lot of pitches that I was swinging through and fouling off earlier in the year are balls that I’m putting in play, whether they be an out or a hit. I’m not striking out as much.
MLB.com: You have been getting a lot of publicity because of the home runs. A lot of people believe you could hit 60 or more home runs when it’s all said and done. Do you feel any pressure the way Roger Maris felt back in 1961?
Olson: Nah, nah. I don’t feel any pressure with it. I’ve never been a guy going up to the plate trying to hit home runs. I could probably count on one hand the times in my life that I’ve gone up to the plate and tried to hit a home run and actually done it. It’s not how the game works. You go to the plate and have a good at-bat. If something is left over the plate and you are able to put a charge into it, you do it. You can’t force it to happen. The home runs are a product of a good, solid, quiet approach. When they happen, they happen.
MLB.com: You are successful in Atlanta, which is your hometown. You must be happy to perform at home.
Olson: I grew up a Braves fan. It’s still cool putting the jersey on every day. It’s like a full-circle moment a little bit. It’s cool to be a member of the Braves and have my friends and family so close.
MLB.com: How does this season compare to your first in Atlanta? I’m sure there was some pressure during that first year.
Olson: It’s a little different. It’s more comfortable [this year]. Everybody was great to me last year, but [it was different] strictly from the fact that I’ve been with one organization [the Athletics] for 10 years. It would have been different going anywhere, let alone going back to Atlanta.
The Braves had just come off winning the World Series. They had a ring ceremony. There was a lot going on. This year, having a year under my belt, knowing the coaching staff, knowing the players better, knowing the park, it’s a little easier the second time around.
MLB.com: Plus, you replaced a legend in Freddie Freeman and you have done quite well.
Olson: You just go out and play your own game. Freddie meant a great deal to the city and the Braves. He is a Hall of Famer in a few years. He is one of the most consistent at-bats in the game. I was aware of the situation coming in. I just did my best to go out and do my thing. We’re different players. We have different strengths and weaknesses. I think from the start, I just wanted to come in and be myself and try to play some winning baseball.
MLB.com: Let’s say your name is Matt Jones and you had to pick a National League MVP between Matt Olson and Ronald Acuña Jr. Who would you pick?
Olson: I’m absolutely picking Ronald. The guy can change the game in any way -- whether it be running the ball down, climbing the fence in the outfield or throwing the ball 100 miles an hour to throw a guy out at the plate. He can steal second and third. He can hit a ball 500 feet or take a good walk. He can shoot the ball the other way for a single. He is one of the most dynamic players in the game. He is doing everything right now.
MLB.com: Hall of Famer John Smoltz said the 2023 Braves are better than the Braves teams he played on. That’s saying something, considering he played on his share of Braves teams that went to the postseason. How good is the ‘23 team?
Olson: We have a really good team. It’s obviously an honor hearing that from somebody who has had a storied career on some great teams that I grew up watching. We have a lot of talent and a lot of guys who play hard with one goal -- and that’s to win a game every day. We don’t get too high or too low. It’s a great team we have.
MLB.com: Everyone talks about your bat. Rightfully so. But you are one hell of a first baseman. You have already won two Gold Gloves. Talk about how proud you are about your defensive skills.
Olson: Honestly, it hasn’t been the best this year. I feel like I have some better defense in me. But you want to be there on the defensive side to help the pitcher. If an infielder makes a bad throw, hopefully you would save them on the other end. It’s important in winning baseball to play good defense. Personally, it’s something I take pride in.
MLB.com: What improvements do you have to make?
Olson: I’ve made a fair share of errors this year on some balls. If it’s just a bad hop or something like that, you can live with it. There have been some uncharacteristic errors. [The balls that are hit] right at me, maybe some slow choppers. Those are going to stick with you, especially when you are making your pitcher throw some extra pitches. Those stick with you a little longer.
MLB.com: You have been a Braves fan your entire life. Who was your favorite player growing up?
Olson: Chipper Jones was my favorite player growing up. Being a lefty, I loved his lefty swing, his toe tap, the way he played. He is a Hall of Famer. He was incredible to watch.
MLB.com: I know he comes to the ballpark. Does he give you advice?
Olson: Yeah, we talk about hitting from time to time. He is there for you whenever you have a question.
MLB.com: What’s the biggest advice he ever gave you?
Olson: Last year, I was struggling a little bit. He told me to quit trying to go over the wall and go through the wall -- get more into a line-drive approach. I think he got me back on track.