Why Braves star Matt Olson doesn’t take on-field batting practice as often nowadays

SAN FRANCISCO – In the couple hours before a baseball game, each team heads out to the field for batting practice, a time-tested part of the daily routine in this sport. On the field, the major leaguers take hacks, and each launched ball draws oohs and ahhs from the fans who showed up early to watch their favorite players.

Matt Olson is one of the sport’s top sluggers. At this moment, he is in the thick of the National League MVP race. He could be baseball’s home run king at season’s end.

And yet, he often doesn’t hit on the field during batting practice.

“I just think sometimes, whether you’re consciously doing it or not, you try to do a little too much,” Olson said.

Instead of taking swings on the field every day, Olson often opts to work in the batting cage. This provides him with a more controlled environment in which he can engage in his routine or focus on adjustments.

See, there can be an inevitable pitfall of batting practice: Try as they might, these major leaguers are still, well, major leaguers. They can go out to the field for batting practice intending to work on something – mindful of reining themselves in – but the atmosphere becomes such that they begin blasting balls all over the yard.

“Yeah,” Olson said about this. “I think everybody thinks they have all the discipline in the world to do it. Especially for me, where I’ve always had natural lift and length in my swing, where I have to be on the side of practicing a little shorter and lower, and it’s just easier in the cage to be a little more consistent with it.”

Everyone is different. For example, Olson said, Ozzie Albies, who is one of the game’s best second basemen, always hits on the field. It’s part of his routine.

In Oakland, Olson took batting practice on the field almost every day. He might not have done it before day games – most guys don’t take batting practice before day games – but he stuck to getting in his work on the field.

As he’s gained experience, he’s learned more about himself and what works for him. Years ago, he might not have known what would work best for his hitting routine.

Then again, he was a young player who didn’t want to make waves.

“I think part of it when you’re young – at least when I was kind of coming up – I thought it was maybe not good to not be out there for BP all the time,” Olson said. “If the veterans are hitting and doing all this, then I should be out there working as well. Sure, when you’re younger you don’t have as many luxuries as (far as) being able to kind of do it a little more on your program, I would say.

“But I think it’s just one of those things that you learn. It’s not like if Vaughn Grissom doesn’t go out and hit BP, I’m in here like, ‘What’s the young guy not doing?’ You gotta do what you gotta do to get ready. Whatever makes you perform the best when the first pitch is, that’s what you gotta do.”

Olson experienced the shift in thinking earlier this season.

“I can’t pinpoint an exact date,” Olson said. “I just felt like there was a time when I was taking a bunch of swings and a bunch of higher-effort-than-I-wanted-to-be reps, and kind of had to pull the leash on myself a little bit and dial it back, and being in the cage, it’s a way easier way to do it then going out on the field.”

Simply put, he noticed he could work more efficiently and effectively in the batting cage. And his results have backed his thinking.

Olson entered Sunday’s series finale versus San Francisco with 43 home runs, which led the NL and was one off the MLB lead. He also had a career-high 112 RBIs – with a month and change to play. His .974 OPS ranked fifth in baseball.

Some fans hold a belief that taking batting practice equals working hard. This doesn’t have to be the case. Fans may not see Olson on the field all the time, but he works diligently in the cage. Plus, he goes through his defensive routine with infield coach Ron Washington almost daily. And many times, Olson takes grounders on the field during batting practice, even if he doesn’t hit at that time.

Olson, who debuted in 2016, is now 29 years old. He’s a two-time All-Star who has won two Gold Glove Awards. He’s one of baseball’s elite first basemen. If he needed to earn the right to do things his way, he’s done that.

It helps to have a manager like Brian Snitker, who allows his players the freedom to do what helps them. “It’s awesome,” Olson said. “It’s not the case everywhere, I’m sure.” Snitker has managed Hall of Famers and superstars, major-league regulars and bench players. His current players always express their gratitude at his style: He helps carry out the standard of playing for the Braves while allowing players to be themselves.

“For me, batting practice is optional pretty much every day,” Snitker said. “I trust they’re going to get their work. Because if they don’t hit out there, they’re probably hitting too much in the cage, quite honestly. But they all come out, they get their ground balls, they do their defensive work. It’s about playing the games. That’s the thing. It’s about having these guys post and play the games.”

Baseball players go through a constant evolution. What worked then may not be best now.

One way Olson has changed is in his view on taking batting practice on the field.

“For me, I feel like I’m learning that maybe I’m not an everyday guy, and mix it in here and there,” Olson said.

Atlanta Braves' first baseman Matt Olson (28) celebrates with teammates after hitting a solo home run during the fourth inning at Truist Park, Wednesday, August 2, 2023, in Atlanta. Atlanta Braves won 12-5 over Los Angeles Angels. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)



Atlanta Braves first baseman Matt Olson (28) hits his second home run against the Milwaukee Brewers during an MLB game Sunday, July 30, 2023 at Truist Field. (Photo by Daniel Varnado/For the AJC)

Credit: Daniel Varnado/for the AJC

Credit: Daniel Varnado/for the AJC

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