Oakland Athletics: What’s going on with Matt Chapman and Matt Olson in 2020?

Oakland Athletics (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Oakland Athletics (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) /

2020 has not been kind to the Oakland Athletics’ franchise cornerstones in the early part of the season.

The Oakland Athletics‘ resident Matts, Matt Chapman and Matt Olson, haven’t exactly been all that to begin the 2020 season.

The organization’s third and first baseman, respectively, came up together through Oakland’s minor-league system in 2017 and both have played integral roles in leading the A’s to the playoffs in each of the prior two seasons.

Each has won multiple Gold Gloves at their positions, a testament to the first-class infield play that has anchored the A’s strong team defense behind their flourishing young pitching staff.

Both possess potent, middle-of-the-order bats with their nearly identical career OPS (.834 for Chapman, .849 for Olson) and OPS+ (125 for Chapman, 129 for Olson) figures.

And perhaps most revealing of their talents, both have been given MVP consideration in each of the last two years. Chapman finished seventh in 2018 MVP voting and sixth in 2019. Olson placed 21st in the voting in 2019, measures of their all-around games.

Two Matts, two franchise cornerstones, and two ultra-talented baseball players with outstanding career numbers. One even earning an endearing nickname (“Chaptain America,” you can guess which Matt that is).

So what gives in 2020? A precipitous drop-off was certainly not forecasted for either player before the season.

Then again, neither was a global pandemic or the long-winded negotiations that led to such a delayed and ultimately short season.

But while baseball doesn’t usually concern itself with small sample sizes, there will only be 60 games from which to evaluate players this year.

So far, the results have not been too encouraging for either of these two young infielders.

Let’s examine further.

Matt Chapman, 3B, Oakland Athletics

It hasn’t been the start to the season that Matt Chapman envisioned.

In 10 games played to start the 2020 season, Chaptain America is hitting a mere .195 with one home run and three RBIs. He’s reaching base at just a 23 percent clip, well below the MLB average of 32 percent.

His OPS is an unsightly .574 and his OPS+ doesn’t grade him much better, rounding out at 65 where a figure of 100 is considered league average.

Looking at other metrics provide some additional insight into his struggles. According to Baseball Savant, which employs the use of the well-renowned Statcast service, Chapman’s strikeout rate is 33 percent in 2020 — 12 points higher than it was in 2019.

His walk rate is down nearly six points from 2019, walking just five percent of the time in 2020. Clearly, Chapman’s pitch recognition is down from where it used to be, which could certainly be a factor in causing his bad start.

Looking at signs of a possible bounce back, his hard-hit rate is over 50 percent in 2020, the highest mark to date in his career. This is definitely encouraging in the sense that when Chapman does make contact with the ball, it’s usually well-struck.

Chapman could very well be experiencing some bad luck in a short stretch of the season, but it should be noted that financial security has been on the Chaptain’s mind, leading to some frustration towards the A’s organization recently.

Perhaps the air on both sides hasn’t been cleared yet, giving Chapman a looming distraction, one that he can hopefully get over soon.

Matt Olson, 1B, Oakland Athletics

Unlike Chapman, Matt Olson got off to a pretty quick start in 2020.

His walk-off grand slam on Opening Night against the Angels provided A’s fans and the team with plenty of optimism that their slugging first baseman would pick up right where he left off in 2019.

Unfortunately, the fireworks have been few and far in between for Olson since then.

In the same 10 game span so far, Olson is hitting just .152 with that one grand slam that accounts for four of his six RBIs on the season. His OPS sits at a meager .591 and his OPS+ at just 77.

So, slightly better than Chapman but nothing to write home about.

However, there are reasons to be optimistic about the prospect of Olson turning his early-season misfortune around.

First, his on-base percentage is .349, which indicates he’s getting on base at a solid clip, considering the average figure is .320. This is due largely in part to Olson’s 23 percent walk rate in 2020, nearly 2.5 times greater than his career nine percent walk rate.

Essentially, he’s drawing a lot of walks, a sign of his strong pitch recognition this season.

His strikeout rate of 27.9 percent sits roughly in line with his career 25 percent mark, indicating his tendencies at the plate have been relatively normal.

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Contrary to Chapman, hard-hit rate is where it’s gone wrong for Olson in 2020. Sitting at just 47.6 percent for the season, that figure is below his 50 percent career mark, right where it was when he enjoyed a breakout year in 2019.

That boils down to Olson not making as much hard contact when he puts the ball in play, which is a key element of his game given the plus power tool he possesses.

Will either Oakland Athletics player bounce-back fully in 2020?

The A’s, as a team, haven’t been totally affected by the struggles of their two corner infielders, as they sit above .500 and in first place in the AL West at the writing of this piece.

Looking at things realistically, however, this pace can’t be sustained without the offensive emergence of at least one of the two Matts.

Both Chapman and Olson are ultimately too talented to be mired in the slumps they’ve endured for much longer. Lucky for them, some advanced metrics paint a more promising outlook for the rest of the season.

That being said, if you were to bet on the likelier slump-buster in 2020, look for it to be Matt Olson.

Next. Oakland Athletics: Breaking down the team’s 30-man roster. dark

A higher walk rate indicates a more disciplined hitting approach, which typically lends itself to better quality at-bats, rather than the free-swinging approach of Matt Chapman.