It’s hard to imagine Matt Chapman, who leads all major league third baseman in total runs saved and range factor, improving defensively, but that has become quite feasible.
Of the 11 errors committed by the Athletics third baseman this season, four have come in day games.
Two of those errors came in a June 14 afternoon loss to the Astros. Following the game, Chapman called his performance embarrassing, after having a popup evade his glove and clang off his face. The 25-year-old went on to discuss the fact that sunglasses had never before been an option during day games:
“To be honest, I’m not very comfortable wearing sunglasses. I don’t mind it with flyballs, but with groundballs, especially if you’re playing in there close, it’s something I’m not fully comfortable with.”
Sunday, Chapman’s first game back from a disabled list stint that started after that June 14 loss, may have been the second-year third-sacker’s best defensive performance of the season. After the game, manager Bob Melvin said that Chapman had saved at least three runs with his glove, making diving grabs to his left and lunging snags to his right. And he did it all with a new addition to his equipment. Beyond his Nike cleats, American flag right arm sleeve and Wilson A2K fielding glove, Chapman emerged from the dugout for first pitch with a pair of green-framed Oakley sunglasses.
He told SFBay after the game:
“Everything went well so far. Last time I was on the field, I got hit in the face with that ball and I lost another one in the sun. I can’t lose any more balls in the sun so it’s something I’ve got to kinda push past.”
Chapman kept his new accessory perched on his face much of the game, though he did have the shades turned upside down on the bill of his cap at times when the sun was obstructed. According to the goings-on on the field, visibility was fine.
He confirmed that notion, admitting that perhaps his fear of a fall-off in visibility was ill-founded:
“It may have been more of a fear than actually not being able to see the ball, so it’s something I’ve just been trying to get used to. I think that making some plays today with the sunglasses on helped my confidence.”
Chapman’s in-form return to the hot corner is a welcomed sight for the A’s. His 14 runs saved are better than perennial Gold Glove third baseman Nolan Arenado (11) of the Rockies by three and tied with Detroit outfielder JaCoby Jones for the top mark among all big leaguers regardless of position. And his range factor (combined number of putouts and assists per nine innings) of 3.49 is more than one-quarter chance better than Kansas City’s Mike Moustakas (3.22), who is second in the game. Chapman’s defense is also the most significant contributing factor to Oakland’s 3.3 WAR at the third base position — the A’s top mark at any position and second-best among baseball’s third base units (Cleveland, 4.2).
In his first full big league season, Chapman is among the elite defenders, a player who can change a game the way few can with a glove on his hand. That is why the A’s rushed him back from the DL, after just one minor league rehab start.
Melvin called Chapman’s defense off the charts, but acknowledged the rust on offense, saying that it is to be expected.
Whether his teammates and coaches expect rust or not, Chapman, who averaged 37 home runs per 150 games in five minor league seasons, said his expectation of himself is to contribute with the lumber as well as the leather. But, until his swing catches up, he is happy to help his club win in whatever way possible:
“I know that my teammates don’t expect me to come back after missing two-and-a-half weeks and just crushing balls — even though I might expect myself to. It means a lot, I’m the kind of person that wants to feel like they’re contributing.”