Matt Chapman Is Amazing

On June 15, the A’s lost to the Angels 8-4. For Oakland, it was their fourth consecutive loss, and it dropped them to a record of 34-36. At that point, the A’s were 11 games back of the Mariners, and while the underlying numbers suggested the standings should’ve been an awful lot closer than that, they weren’t, and there was little the A’s could do. You’ll remember it seemed like the AL playoff picture was already decided. The Mariners had a firm grip on the second wild card.

That race is now officially tied up. The A’s and the Mariners are both 18 games over .500. In the Mariners’ defense, it’s not like they’ve collapsed — since June 16, they’ve gone a mediocre 18-20. The A’s have gone a baseball-best 30-10. The Mariners have spun their wheels, while the A’s have caught fire. It looks like a coin flip the rest of the way. The playoff picture is settled no more.

How is it that the A’s have surprised as much as they have? How is it that baseball’s lowest opening-day payroll is currently tied for a playoff spot? Much credit has to go to the bullpen, led by Blake Treinen, Lou Trivino, and, now, Jeurys Familia. The bullpen has been incredible when it’s had to be. But as is always the case, this has been a team effort. Matt Chapman is a member of that team I’d like to bring to your attention.

Again, the credit goes all the way down. This hasn’t just been about Chapman and the bullpen. But Chapman is deserving of the spotlight right now, because he’s the best player the A’s have on their roster. Turns out he’s one of the best players anyone could have on their roster. Chapman has flown somewhat under the radar, because of where he plays, and because of what makes him so valuable, but if you want to understand the full Matt Chapman experience, allow me to take you back just a couple days.

On Tuesday, the A’s beat the Blue Jays. Here’s what Chapman did to Yangervis Solarte in the top of the fourth:

Chapman came out of nowhere to field the bunt. He got some help from Matt Olson — Olson is also good — but right there you can get a sense of Chapman’s athleticism. Here’s what Chapman did to Solarte in the top of the eighth:

Let’s just freeze that for a moment:

Getting to the ball was great; making the throw was extraordinary. That’s a play few third basemen could make. We’ll talk more about Chapman’s defense later on, but he also swings the bat. Here’s a ringing double, that Chapman hit 111 miles per hour:

And now here’s something more subtle. It’s Chapman on second. He’d reached on a walk. You see that there’s only one out.

Chapman scored easily. He scored so easily you wouldn’t think anything of it. But look where the ball came down in front of Dwight Smith Jr.:

That’s, I don’t know, about a body length. The ball looked like a hit, but it wasn’t a sure thing. Nevertheless, Chapman read it perfectly, allowing him to advance two bases instead of one. Good baserunning is hard to identify with your eyes, especially good baserunning of the non-stolen-base variety, but there, too, Chapman appears to excel. The more you look at him, the more you realize he’s good across the board.

Chapman specializes in defense. It’s not his only strength, but it is his strongest one. This year’s A’s do not have a terrific pitching staff, but they have allowed baseball’s lowest team BABIP. They’re fourth-lowest on the road, away from all that Oakland foul territory. According to Baseball Savant, the A’s have the second-biggest difference between wOBA allowed and expected wOBA allowed, hinting at positive defensive intervention. Chapman is just one of a number of defenders, but he’s the most obvious standout.

Let’s take this beyond just the present season. Chapman debuted around the middle of last year. Since the start of last year, 24 third baseman have played at least 1,000 innings at the position. Chapman has a ten-run lead over second place in Defensive Runs Saved per 1,000 innings. He has a five-run lead over second place in UZR per 1,000 innings. Taking the average of the two, he has about a ten-run lead again. By the measure we have, Chapman is baseball’s best defensive third baseman, and it’s not even particularly close.

Now let’s split seasons and cover a decade, going back to 2009. Since then, there have been 302 third baseman player-seasons with at least 500 innings at the position. By DRS per 1,000 innings, Chapman’s two seasons rank first and third-best. By UZR per 1,000 innings, they rank fourth- and 14th-best. Taking the average, they rank first and fourth. Chapman has played a little over the equivalent of one full season. The numbers don’t disagree on the matter of his defense being sensational; it’s more a matter of degree. Chapman seems like prime Manny Machado, or prime Nolan Arenado.

In terms of Chapman’s baserunning? We have a measure called UBR, which measures baserunning value outside of steals and double plays. Chapman doesn’t steal, but that doesn’t mean he’s not still a baserunning plus. Since the start of last year, out of everyone, Chapman ranks sixth in baseball in UBR. He’s sandwiched between Christian Yelich and Xander Bogaerts.

And, of course, there’s the bat. Chapman has 716 career plate appearances. He has a wRC+ of 121, which the Statcast numbers entirely support. More than that, Chapman appears to have improved from his rookie campaign — he’s trimmed five points off his strikeout rate, and he’s trimmed six points off his chase rate. Chapman is more dangerous than he already was, and he ranks among the higher peak exit velocities. He has tremendous power, and now he’s improved his bat-to-ball skills.

Forget 2018 alone. It matters, but let’s just look at everything we have. Chapman debuted in 2017, so, I pulled every player who’s batted at least 500 times since the season opener. Our WAR measure uses UZR for defense, so here are the top position players in WAR per 600 plate appearances:

Top Players, 2017 – 2018
Player UZR WAR/600
Mike Trout 8.7
Jose Ramirez 7.5
Aaron Judge 7.1
Anthony Rendon 6.4
Mookie Betts 6.3
Jose Altuve 6.2
Matt Chapman 6.0
Francisco Lindor 5.8
Carlos Correa 5.7
Aaron Hicks 5.4

That doesn’t necessarily mean that’s the best WAR, though. Some people prefer UZR, and some people prefer DRS. We know that neither is perfect. So here’s another, similar table, showing the same, but after swapping in DRS, and swapping out UZR:

Top Players, 2017 – 2018
Player DRS WAR/600
Mike Trout 8.9
Matt Chapman 7.8
Jose Ramirez 7.7
Aaron Judge 7.4
Mookie Betts 7.0
Jose Altuve 6.6
Carlos Correa 6.3
Andrelton Simmons 6.1
Nolan Arenado 6.1
Francisco Lindor 6.0

At last, you could argue the right move is to take both DRS and UZR, and then go with the average. Here are the top ten position players via that approach:

Top Players, 2017 – 2018
Player AVG WAR/600
Mike Trout 8.8
Jose Ramirez 7.6
Aaron Judge 7.2
Matt Chapman 6.9
Mookie Betts 6.6
Jose Altuve 6.4
Carlos Correa 6.0
Anthony Rendon 6.0
Francisco Lindor 5.9
Nolan Arenado 5.7

Matt Chapman, fourth place. Maybe your takeaway is about Mike Trout. These things pretty much always come back to Mike Trout. Matt Chapman isn’t as good as Mike Trout, because no one is as good as Mike Trout. But as the non-Trout category goes, Chapman belongs. Even if you don’t believe he’s as good as Ramirez, Judge, or Betts, the point is that he’s close. The point is that there’s statistical reason to believe he’s right there. Chapman is not the best player in baseball, but he has been one of them, almost from the get-go, because he’s a positive contributor in every way. He’s a defensive specialist who’s good at the other stuff too.

It’s perfectly fair to wonder whether Chapman’s defense is being accurately measured. It’s perfectly fair to wonder how long he might keep it up. But we do know, beyond almost any doubt, Chapman is an elite defender, and we know that has real value. We know his bat and baserunning also have value, and it looks like his hitting has only improved. Don’t worry about specific WARs and specific decimals. The numbers just help to inform the general conclusion — that conclusion being, Matt Chapman is one of the very best players. He’s not the whole reason why the A’s are where they are, but if you’re searching that roster for a superstar, consider that search concluded.

Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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5 years ago

Reminds me of the trade value series when people chimed in about how Chapman didn’t belong where he was on the list, and I personally agreed… he belonged higher. Maybe it is where I am in the west coast, and how I cycle through a lot of Athletics games, but when you watch him you see that he is special. I don’t think its a stretch to say he is the best 3rd baseman in the game outside of Jram.

5 years ago
Reply to  carter

Knee jerk reaction was what about Nolan, but as always there is a Coors story. Hadn’t realized how big Arenado’s home/away splits are. Career OPS near 1.000 at home, 798 away (110 wrc+). Is the latter more indicative of true talent? For comparison, Chapman is 121 for career. Machado 120. (Chapman may have more room to get better since he’s got less MLB time under his belt, but Machado is only barely older despite 5 years more in the Show.)

Defense gives Chapman some separation, but 3b under 30 is a strong group (all wrc+ career).
– Bregman is at 132 on the basis of his insane year with the bat.
– Rendon is at 121 and somehow only 28. Not Chapman with the glove but very good.
– If Bryant (141 career, 129 this year) regains his power he’s right there too.

5 years ago
Reply to  hahiggins

Agreed, which is why it is not a stretch:)

5 years ago
Reply to  hahiggins

For Arenado it is more somewhere in the middle for what is indicative of true talent. It has been shown Rockies players have more trouble adjusting to road trips than any other team due to seeing more movement than they are conditioned for playing at Coors. This and the splits have been shown to contract much more towards a middle ground years after a player leaves Colorado.

5 years ago
Reply to  bombguy85

Where exactly has that been shown? I’ve seen lots of studies on the matter and the majority show that there’s no effect on the road stats. So if you know of a newer study that proves your claim beyond a shadow of a doubt, then by a means post it.

Travis Lmember
5 years ago
Reply to  emh1969

There are dozens of reputable articles if you search for Coors Field Hangover Effect. Here’s one:

5 years ago
Reply to  emh1969

One good place to start with queries like this is “”.

5 years ago
Reply to  emh1969
baltic wolfmember
5 years ago
Reply to  carter

I know Machado hasn’t played third very often this year, but since he has with the Dodgers, let’s looks at another defensive metric to demonstrate the separation between Machado’s defensive greatness and Chapman’s above average defense at third.
Inside Edge keeps a stat on how many “impossible” plays a fielder makes every year.
From 2013-2017, Machado’s numbers read like this: 7, 17, 13, 7, 17.
Chapman: 2017: 2 2018: 7.
No comparison. Machado makes extraordinary plays. Chapman does too, but far fewer times.
Maybe it’s my Orioles bias, but when a HOFer like Brooks Robinson says that Machado made plays during his tenure as an Oriole that he could never make, that says something about how special Manny was in his prime.

Travis Lmember
5 years ago
Reply to  baltic wolf

In how many opportunities? Is making hard plays even the most important thing for defensive prowess?

baltic wolfmember
5 years ago
Reply to  Travis L

You don’t need to measure DRS if your third baseman makes “impossible” plays to prevent base runners from getting into scoring position. So yes, making not merely “hard” but “impossible” plays matters.

5 years ago
Reply to  baltic wolf

Context silly! Your missing large parts of it.

5 years ago
Reply to  baltic wolf

“Impossible plays” matter as far as they help take runs off the board, which is what DRS and UZR attempt to measure. Your argument boils down to “Forget how effective each player is, just focus on which one has the better highlights.”

baltic wolfmember
5 years ago
Reply to  Shanthi

Does it? Maybe you should read the comment over.
I never said anything more than IMO Machado makes the extremely difficult plays more frequently than Chapman. That’s all.
Chapman is a fine and effective player, no doubt.
But before downvoting my comment, try reading exactly what is said and what is not.
Inside Edge defines “impossible” plays as something that have a nearly 0% chance of happening.
Are their numbers reliable? Is UZR? There’s a lot of controversy about the utility of that metric also.

5 years ago
Reply to  baltic wolf

actually, he just makes them more difficult than Chapman would look, that’s why he makes more “extremely difficult” plays

5 years ago
Reply to  baltic wolf

It’s absolutely your Orioles bias. Just because another player is great doesn’t mean it’s a slight against your player who is also great. Before hhisinjury, pace to challenge the single season DRS record as a third baseman. He’s really good, he’s probably the best defender in baseball.

This article isn’t a slight against Machado, no need to throw the cape on.

baltic wolfmember
5 years ago
Reply to  Towel

I don’t see where I said the article is a “…slight against Machado.”
And I don’t even know what the expression “throw the cape on” means. Perhaps that’s because I’m 62 and not familiar with urban slang anymore.
As I said with Shanti: IMO Machado has made more extremely difficult plays at third more often than Chapman, that’s all.
I’m really a big fan of Chapman too, or I wouldn’t have him on my team in a dynasty league.

5 years ago
Reply to  baltic wolf

Whoa, slow down there buddy… They’re called “impossible” plays for a reason – no one makes them. You simply read the number of balls hit to Machado that are CLASSIFIED as impossible… he caught 0 out of 61 from ’13 – ’18, cause they’re IMPOSSIBLE.

However, for fun, both players are studs on plays labeled “remote” (plays that have a 1% to 10% chance of being made):

Machado’s made plays on 12 of 124 “remote” balls in ’12-’18
Chapman’s made plays on 5 of 28 “remote” balls in ’17-’18.

For context, the always defensively-solid Rendon has made 4 of 81 “remote” ball plays dating back to ’13.

baltic wolfmember
5 years ago
Reply to  SnorlaxUseRest

cherry pi: thanks for the clarification. I stand corrected.
In the future I will only make comments on FG when I’m not under the influence of my neuropathy medication. (And that’s only a few hours every day.) It makes my vision blurry, despite using the zoom feature.
There was no need to interject the initial comment anyway. It was way off topic.
It’s just that I’ve seen Machado make other worldly plays at third and I let my enthusiasm for his extraordinary play at the hot corner get the best of me.
Several years ago, FG posted a piece (was it August Fagerstrom?) asking fans: are you a batting, pitching or fielding nerd?
I’m definitely a fielding nerd. When I was young and still playing baseball, I never pitched. I was a poor hitter—probably because of my lazy left eye. But I was speedy enough to run down lots of flyballs in the OF.
That’s why I get so excited by remarkable fielding plays and Machado supplied his fair share during his time in Baltimore.
I’m sad to see him go. But because the Orioles organization has finally recognized the need for a total rebuild (IMO, they should’ve traded Machado in December when he would’ve brought back a greater haul in prospects), just like when we lost Mike Mussina—my favorite Orioles starter— I’m happy that he’s playing for a better organization. I hope he gets to shine on the biggest stage this fall: the World Series.
And I reiterate: I’m a big fan of Chapman too.
I guess I’ll have humble pie for breakfast. 🙂

5 years ago
Reply to  baltic wolf

Vic: No worries buddy. And thanks for sharing! I definitely stand with you as a fielding nerd, especially now that I’m getting into slow-pitch softball where almost EVERYTHING gets put into play lol).

Also, your Machado enthusiasm is definitely deserved. As a lifetime Dodger fan (and someone who lost a lot of sleep in late October), I appreciated it! 🙂

Come Down Easy
5 years ago
Reply to  baltic wolf

Check the stats again. Both Machado and Chapman have never made an impossible play as defined by inside edge. Nor has any other player. The numbers you are stating are impossible opportunities they had each year. The 0% next to them is their success rate.
5 years ago
Reply to  carter

Arenado gets a lot praise because of his defense, one of the top notch in the game now and in the history of the game. General public only see the offensive stats when someone is discussed as the greatest player. Arenado’ offense is great and people automatically say Coors that Coors this. But even if you remove Arenado’s coors stats and multiply his road stats by 2 to get full season average, he is still one of the best 3rd basemen. His defense is as valuable as his offense, if not more than offense.