Chapman's bat has caught up to his glove

A's star has been top-10 MLB slugger since 2018 ASG

April 18th, 2019

If you’re at all familiar with A’s third baseman , you know about his Gold Glove defense. Platinum Glove-worthy, in fact, for incredible plays, like Chapman’s latest gem below, that he seemingly makes at least once a week.

But if you’re not as familiar with Chapman’s ability on the other side of the diamond, it’s time you should be. Because Oakland’s third baseman has actually been one of the Majors' best sluggers for more than half a season now, and he showed that again on Wednesday night with a go-ahead home run in the sixth inning that helped end the Astros' 10-game winning streak.

Going back to last year's All-Star break (84 games), Chapman has slashed .309/.371/.591 with a homer for every 17 at-bats. That equates to a 162 wRC+ (weighted runs created plus), which ranks eighth in MLB in that stretch. He's also 10th in slugging percentage in that time. Chapman, already a contender for the game’s best defender, is quickly formulating a case to be MLB’s best two-way player.

That distinction means we’re moving Chapman into rarified air, and there’s plenty of other superstars (Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, Alex Bregman, Ronald Acuna Jr., Christian Yelich and Nolan Arenado, last year’s National League Platinum Glove winner, to name a few) who could certainly dispute Chapman’s claim to that two-way title. But the more that Chapman (.284/.361/.581, 6 HR, 159 wRC+ to begin 2019) compounds the offensive progress he made down the stretch last year, the harder it is to ignore his arrival.

Most Wins Above Replacement, since 2018 All-Star break
1. Yelich: 6.4
2. Trout: 5.4
3. Acuna: 5.3
4. Chapman: 5.1
5. Betts: 5.0

Source: Baseball-Reference

Chapman’s defense has always been his calling card, but his bat took some time to catch up. He entered last year’s All-Star break slashing a serviceable .250/.342/.434 (116 wRC+) before taking the leap.

"He controls the strike zone,” said Red Sox manager Alex Cora earlier this month, after Chapman knocked a pair of homers in Oakland’s four-game series win over Boston. “He gets to pitches on the edges of the strike zone, he goes the other way. He's the total package."

Let’s explore that, because Chapman’s plate discipline appears to have fueled his improvement. His chase rate is down 3.6 percent to begin 2019, underlying his enormous 14.1 percent drop in strikeout rate (one of MLB’s largest). Even if Chapman’s 10.1 percent K rate comes back to earth a little bit, the fact that it’s that low roughly 10 percent of the way through the season is encouraging, as K rates tend to stabilize about 60 plate appearances into the season.

Chapman has crushed fastballs consistently, but it’s his improvement in recognizing everything else that’s making him a tougher out. His chase rate against breaking balls dropped by nearly half from June through August last year, and after a brief spike against those pitches in September, he’s simply spitting on those pitches entirely to start this year.

Chapman’s chase rates vs. breaking balls, by month, since June 2018

June: 34.6%
July: 25.4%
Aug.: 19.5%
Sept.: 32.1%
March/April 2019: 7.8%

That last number, 7.8 percent, is the fourth-lowest in MLB for players who have seen at least 25 out-of-zone breaking balls.

"For me, it really is pitch selection and making sure I'm hunting the pitches I'm looking for," Chapman told NBC Sports California last week. "I used to let a certain pitch get me off of my plan or let the situation or count change my approach. I would try to do too much. I feel like I've gotten better at being more disciplined to stay in my zone and use my strengths."

Discipline might not go far enough to describe Chapman's start; he's one of MLB’s most discerning hitters to begin 2019. Chapman wasn’t necessarily a strike-zone master in the Minors, nor in his first cup of coffee in 2017. But if this is who he is now, that’s a whole new level added to a star who was already in MLB’s upper WAR echelon last season.

"He's one of the more promising young players in the league," Astros manager AJ Hinch said after watching Chapman knock the game-winning, 441-foot home run Wednesday night. At this point, it's hard to disagree.