Around the start of Spring Training, I wrote an article about Matt Chapman‘s potential to become an MVP candidate. In the first few series of the 2021 season, this take appears to be a bit foolish. The Platinum Glove-winning third baseman is slashing .118/.225/.206 with a strikeout rate of 37 percent. At times this season, even his legendary Brooks Robinson-Esq defense has looked shakier than usual. The soon-to-be 28-year-old all-star is cooler than cool: He’s ice cold.
A few things to point out before we get into the potential causes and solutions for this slump, let’s get some surface stuff out of the way. Chapman is in the prime of his career, and we have seen him demonstrate his offensive and defensive ability time and time again. We are also working with a very, very tiny sample size of ten games. No matter how promising or disappointing a player looks in ten games, it rarely indicates the true talent of a player. There is still plenty of season left.
How can Matt Chapman break out of his slump?
Despite all of the disappointment offensively, there has been one area that Chapman has been excelling. The Elder Matt on the A’s has been walking a whole lot. Chapman has walked five times this season, most of them occurring in the A’s first miserable series against the Astros. What does this tell us?
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After an injury, a long layoff, and a bizarre 2020 campaign, this higher walk rate shows us that the A’s third baseman still has plenty of plate discipline. Even though Chapman’s home run power is his most eye-catching offensive skill, another crucial element to his hitting profile is his ability to lay off pitches outside of the zone. This display of patience is especially great to see after last season when Chapman cut his walk rate in half and was much worse than usual at making contact with borderline strikes.
This discipline, however, might be a double edge sword. Throughout Chapman’s career, he has swung at the first pitch of an at-bat roughly 25 percent of the time. So far, this rate is down ten percent.
He is also only swinging at pitches in the heart of the plate 66 percent of the time, which is also significantly lower than his usual rates. For Chapman to fully utilize his powerful swing, he needs to punish mistakes more and drag at-bats into long counts less. Many of these long counts have led to strikeouts or weak contact.
Oh Look, Another Slider
Matt Chapman has seen 176 pitches this season, and roughly 32 percent of them have been sliders. In the past, Chapman has made a habit of punishing sliders, especially in 2020, where he had a hard-hit rate of 85.7 percent off the pitch. This year this is down to an abysmal 33.3 percent. Why the sudden slider slump?
The A’s have faced off against two slider-heavy opponents, the Houston Astros, and the Los Angeles Dodgers. Most of the sliders that came Chappy’s way in the Dodgers series came from the hand of future Hall of Famer Clayton Kershaw. Chappy struggled against the lefty, striking out twice and whiffing on most of Kershaw’s sliders.
The Astros had a different game plan for the slugger. In their first series, Astros pitching threw many of their sliders for balls against Chapman, leading to the high walk rate mentioned earlier in the article. In their second series, Houston seemed to find a way to combat this. Houston Pitching, led by José Urquidy, pounded the zone with breaking balls, amounting to a large total of twelve called strikes throughout the series.
Keep in mind that I am not a professional baseball hitter and that offensive adjustments take time. I also think that many of Chapman’s struggles can be chalked up to a small sample size and very formidable pitching. That said, it seems that a lot of Matt Chapman’s issues at the plate stem from a lack of aggressiveness. Patience is valuable, but if the last Astros series is an indicator, that patience can and will be exploited.
Ultimately, I have faith that the best defensive third baseman in Major League Baseball will regain his offensive prowess, and hopefully, my bold Matt Chapman claims will start to look a little less silly.