OAKLAND -- Matt Chapman has been an elevation sensation this year by getting his batted balls in the air at a higher rate than any player in baseball. But with that increased contact has also come a decline in one of Chapman’s biggest strengths: drawing walks.
Chapman’s 2019 campaign featured numerous career highs that led to a breakout year at the plate, including 73 walks over 156 games, which was good for a 10.9-percent walk rate. Entering Thursday night’s contest against the D-backs, Chapman had reached via base on balls only six times through 25 games.
So, where have the walks gone? After being lauded by coaches for his improved patience at the plate last season, Chapman strayed away from that discipline early this year. It became hard for Chapman not to go up to the box looking to attack pitchers early in the count, particularly over a nine-game stretch from Aug. 4-12 in which he went off, going 13-for-37 (.351) with five home runs, four doubles, one triple and 12 RBIs.
The lack of walks was easy to overlook during that hot stretch. But now that Chapman has cooled off a bit, hitting .161 in his last eight games entering Thursday, he's looking to up his walk numbers in order to get right at the plate again.
“My walks are a little down from what I’m accustomed to. That’s something that I always thought was a good part of my game,” Chapman said. “My strikeouts are a little higher than I’d like, but I know it’s early and that I’ve notoriously started seasons still trying to find that timing.
“I felt like I was swinging the bat really well at one point, and I think I was just being super aggressive. I was swinging early and making hard contact. Trying to jump on balls. I think you’ll see it even itself out.”
Chapman has already exhibited an improved eye of late, entering Thursday having drawn a walk in each of Oakland’s previous two games.
“That goes back to me trying to be a little more disciplined. I was swinging a lot early, but [pitchers] were coming after me,” Chapman said. “I have to pull back the reins a little bit, because they’re trying to make me get myself out and avoiding me a little bit more. It’s kind of like that cat-and-mouse game a little bit, when you have to pick and choose your times to be aggressive and then just stay really locked in on your pitch. The walks will go up just strictly based off me having better pitch selection.”
Though Chapman isn’t walking as much, that’s not to say that he isn’t enjoying a solid year at the plate. As of Thursday, the two-time Gold Glove Award-winning third baseman was tied for fourth in the Majors in triples (two) and seventh in extra-base hits (15). He’s also been a Statcast phenomenon, as he entered Thursday as the top hitter in baseball in rate of contact through the air (77.9 percent) and tied for fourth in number of balls barreled (11).
“I think a lot of things can be cleaned up for me on pitch selection,” Chapman said. “Sometimes, when I get into a good stretch, I feel like I can hit everything. I just need to be in control of myself and slow it down. When I’m in a good position to hit, I’m taking good swings. Sometimes, you just have to reteach yourself.”
Constantly making adjustments over the course of a season, Chapman is currently looking to get himself ready to hit earlier at the plate in order to give himself more time to decide whether he wants to move his swing to the baseball or take a pitch.
After all, the A’s have historically been known to value walks more than most teams since the “Moneyball” days. They also entered Thursday leading the Majors with 110 walks as a team, so Chapman doesn’t want to fall too far behind the rest of his teammates in that category.
“As an organization, we target guys that walk and hit home runs, and he does that,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “He’s had periods where he’s swung the bat well and draws walks and periods where he struggles, like anyone to this point. That’s part of his game, and when you see him playing well, walks come into play.”