Chapman, Olson eye return to elite form

February 23rd, 2021

MESA, Ariz. -- Matt Chapman and Matt Olson are considered to be the pillars of the A’s organization. Yet as they enter Spring Training, both feel like they have something to prove this season.

The two Matts are equally motivated to turn their production from the 2020 campaign into an anomaly. Chapman is eager to show that he is still an All-Star talent after a right hip issue limited him to 37 games before undergoing season-ending surgery, while Olson has been hard at work this offseason in search of a fix for troubling swing mechanics from last year that led to a .195 batting average over the regular season.

There’s also the quest for both to get back to their reign as top defenders at their respective positions, after they were dethroned of Gold Glove Awards last season after winning the award in back-to-back seasons the previous two years. Chapman did not qualify for the award at third base due to his limited number of games. Olson finished among the top three finalists at first base, but was ultimately topped by Seattle’s Evan White.

“I know both of us are motivated for our own reasons,” Chapman said. “Olson wants to win that award back just as bad as I do. I won two in a row and felt like that was my award to lose, and I unfortunately lost it. But I want to come back and show people that not only am I healthy, but I’m back at the top of my game and this is behind me. I want to be the player that I know I’m capable of being and do it consistently again.”

The player Chapman, 27, has shown he can be is rather impressive.

A breakout 2019 campaign in which he hit a career-high 36 home runs with 91 RBIs -- in addition to his elite defense -- positioned him nicely as a dark-horse American League MVP Award candidate entering '20. Though various analytics still rated highly for Chapman, such as exit velocity and launch angle, the star third baseman found himself chasing after pitches he normally would let pass.

On defense, the lingering hip issue -- which was on his dominant right leg and required heavy daily maintenance in order to loosen it up before games -- seemed to zap him of the mobility that makes him such a great defender.

After successful rehab this offseason, Chapman is in camp having slimmed down and feeling like he can rely on his legs more and get back to his slick-fielding ways.

“I have no restrictions coming into Spring Training,” Chapman said. “It feels amazing. It’s nice to be able to feel like I have both of my legs under me, especially my right leg. I use that leg to push off when I throw and drive when I swing. To have that strength back, it took the pressure off my knee and back. I feel fresh and athletic again.”

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A quick look at Olson’s 2020 will show the power was still there with 14 homers and 42 RBIs. There were also the unique pandemic-related circumstances surrounding the season that A’s manager Bob Melvin believes led to down years by several top players around the league, citing former A’s shortstop Marcus Semien and Brewers star Christian Yelich as examples. However, Olson did not allow for any excuses when describing how disgusted he was in his overall production last year.

“To put it bluntly, I stunk last year, in my opinion,” Olson said. "There were definitely things wrong with the swing that I was going out there with every day. I don't think that represents in any way the caliber of player that I think that I am.”

Among the issues that Olson identified with his approach at the plate was a tendency to leave his bat “too horizontal” during his setup. This led to a disruption in his timing, as he often swung around his body and rolled over on pitches. Having worked with A’s hitting coach Darren Bush virtually over the offseason, Olson is confident that the issue has been corrected.

At his best, Olson can also perform as a premier power hitter, which was evident in 2019, when he matched Chapman with 36 homers and 91 RBIs. Combine those two types of seasons together, and the two Matts can be one of the most dynamic duos in all of baseball. Together, they have discussed how they would like to show that they are one of the best one-two punches in the league.

“It’s definitely something we've touched on a little bit,” Olson said. “I know [Chapman] wants to get back and prove to everybody that he's that All-Star type of player, and that his hip is fine. Based off everything that I've seen, there's no question about that. Me, coming off the bad season, I want to come out here and prove that I’m the same caliber of player that I was in 2019 and that I have been in the past and know that I am. So yeah, it's a driving force.

“We weren't necessarily tearing the cover off the ball last year as as a unit, so I think we're gonna take a lot of pride in that and try to go out there and be one of the best offensive teams in the league.”

Even with the down years by Chapman and Olson, the A’s still managed to reach the postseason and take the Astros to four games in the AL Division Series. Now imagine how deep of a playoff run Oakland can make with Chapman and Olson looking like themselves again.

“It’s a sky-is-the-limit type of thing,” Melvin said. “We've seen them basically come up together. We've seen them win Gold Gloves together and have terrific offensive seasons. It's really difficult to answer questions about numbers from last year. It was not a normal season. In a normal season, when guys are prepared for the long haul, typically, you hit around your numbers.

“If they both put together really good seasons, our team is that much better. They're the cornerstones here. Not only are they probably our best players, at this point, they're also leaders. Both [are] guys [who] were first-round picks in our organization. There's just a lot to like about these guys. And as Oakland A's, they take pride in wearing our uniform as well.”