Athletics

How A's Matt Chapman picks Alex Bregman's brain, tries to make him laugh

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AP

How A's Matt Chapman picks Alex Bregman's brain, tries to make him laugh

Matt Chapman has made his way into the best third baseman in baseball conversation -- unfortunately, the All-Star votes aren't mirroring that ... for now. 

If you like to debate -- and I know you do -- about the subject, Colorado Rockies' Nolan Arenado and Houston Astros' Alex Bregman without a doubt are brought into the conversation as the two hot corner men in the game. And it turns out, they each have mutual respect for each other. The even pick one another's brains. 

"[Bregman] asks me questions about defense a lot -- I try to help him out, but he has a pretty good idea of what he wants to do -- he's such a smart baseball player," Chapman said on "The Jim Rome Show" on Wednesday. "I try to pick his brain about how he is in the box and what he thinks about in the box and what pitches he hunts."

Chapman knows the two have very different swings. Bregman has a tendency to be more compact while Chapman's is a bit longer.

"I try to just see what his approach is. I feel like when he gets in the batter's box he knows exactly what he wants to do. I don't see him out of control very often and he doesn't strike out very much." 

"I try to help him with anything I can -- maybe I just make him laugh."

Arenado, another favorite of Rome's, said even he himself wasn't as good of a third baseman as Chapman. 

That's a hell of a compliment from someone whose résumé includes four All-Star selections, six Gold Glove Awards and two Platinum Glove Awards. 

Chapman also was asked about the successful campaign the A's had last year detailing the ups and downs of a season that ended too soon.

"When nobody expected anything out of us -- to be able to do what we did, was pretty cool." 

Still, it was a contrasting experience from the regular season to those later months.

"There's definitely a big difference -- I mean yes and no -- it's a big difference from the preparation, the things around it, and probably the feeling inside before the game," Chapman explained. "You know, definitely a little more emphasis on the game. "After my first at-bat, I felt like it slowed down a bit for me. It was a lot of fun -- I wish it wasn't so short lived."

And short-lived it was indeed. Just one game would bring the team's 97-win season to an end. A game that was difficult from the get-go. 

"Going into Yankee Stadium was tough," he said.

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The Yankees had home-field advantage and got off to a fast start in the American League Wild Card, grabbing a 7-2 win.

"But I think we can look back and be proud of what we accomplished, and learn a lot from that game and maybe chip back a little bit more in a playoff game," Chapman explained. "I think we learned how to handle those emotions."

Where A's MVP finalist Marcus Semien wants to improve next season

Where A's MVP finalist Marcus Semien wants to improve next season

OAKLAND -- Marcus Semien enjoyed a breakout season in 2019, in just about every area. The Oakland shortstop became the first A's player to register a top-three finish in the AL MVP race since Miguel Tejada in 2002.

"It means a lot," Semien told NBC Sports California. "It was a very competitive field this year. I think that the game is changing. There are so many players who can do everything on the field -- fielding, base running, scoring runs, producing runs. I'm trying to work on every part of my game to get better, and in the second half, I really made some improvements."  

Semien, 29, set career-highs in runs, hits, home runs, doubles, RBI, walks, batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and just about any other stat you can think of. The Bay Area native might have been even better defensively, where he was a Gold Glove finalist for the second straight year.

But despite all of his accomplishments, Semien believes he still has room to improve in 2020.

"I think baserunning is a big one, just getting in scoring position more for our big hitters," Semien said. "We've got great hitters in the middle of the lineup, so walking and getting hits, you want to just make sure you run the bases right. Defensively, turn more double plays, help our pitchers. We're going to have some young pitchers, so we want to make them feel as comfortable as possible."

Last offseason, Semien's most significant development involved plate discipline. He reduced his strikeout total from 131 to 102 and drew a career-high 87 walks, 26 more than the year before.

Semien also matched an A's single-season record by scoring 123 runs, fourth-most in the majors.

"Scoring runs was a big one for me," Semien said. "Solidifying myself in the leadoff spot. I've been moving around the lineup for a couple of years now and just to solidify the leadoff spot and score runs and get in a routine was great."

[RELATED: A's star Semien tells mental health journey in HEADSTRONG]

While he appreciates the individual recognition, Semien's main focus is team success. After experiencing back-to-back Wild Card Game losses, he is optimistic that the A's can make a deeper run next season.

"I think we're going to be good," he said. "We want to start off better than we did last year. I think that our rotation will be more solidified. These last two years, we've added at the (trade) deadline to get our rotation where we want it to be, where this coming season, we'll hopefully start the rotation that we like. Position players are ready. I think that we'll have everybody healthy and it'll be fun."

Why A's shortstop Marcus Semien could be MVP candidate again in 2020

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USATSI

Why A's shortstop Marcus Semien could be MVP candidate again in 2020

Marcus Semien fell short of winning the AL MVP Award, but his third-place finish might be just the beginning.

At 29 years old, the A's shortstop still is very much in his prime and has significantly improved in each of his five seasons with Oakland.

When Semien first joined the A's at the age of 24, he was a decent hitter but looked completely lost in the field. In 2015, he committed a league-high 35 errors, prompting many to believe that he could never develop into a major-league shortstop.

But with the help of Ron Washington, Semien went to work. He spent hours upon hours working on his footwork, glovework, and consistency. Fast forward to 2019 and Semien has transformed into a back-to-back Gold Glove Award finalist.

Semien's offensive development has been just as impressive. This past season, the Bay Area native slashed .285/.369/.522 with 33 home runs, 43 doubles, 92 RBI, and 123 runs scored. He notched career-highs in just about every offensive stat imaginable, ranking near the top of the majors in all of the important categories.

Most impressive, Semien's 8.1 WAR (wins above replacement) was fourth-best in baseball, behind only Mike Trout, Alex Bregman, and Cody Bellinger. Semien started all 162 games at shortstop, batting in the leadoff spot for 145 of those contests. And the scariest part for the rest of the league is that he continues to get better.

"He becomes a better hitter every year," A's manager Bob Melvin said earlier this year. "Nobody works harder than Marcus Semien. He knows what he needs to work on."

After the All-Star break, Semien arguably was the most productive hitter in baseball. In 70 games, he slashed .304/.396/.621 with 19 homers, 22 doubles, five triples, 44 RBI, and 62 runs.

If Semien continues at that rate next season, it would translate to 44 home runs, 51 doubles, 12 triples, 102 RBI, and 143 runs over the course of 162 games. That certainly is MVP-caliber.

Of course, the A's have a major decision to make -- Semien is set to become a free agent after the 2020 season and figures to see some big-money offers. Will Oakland sign its star shortstop to an expensive extension or instead turn the reigns over to young prospect Jorge Mateo?

[RELATED: A's Luzardo an intriguing case for 2020 Rookie of the Year]

Semien is entering his final year of arbitration, where he is projected to get $13.5 million. After that, the A's could choose to make a qualifying offer to Semien for 2021, but there is no guarantee he would accept.

If 2020 does end up being Semien's last year in Oakland, it figures to be another special one. This year he was an MVP finalist. Perhaps next year he'll just be the MVP.