Why A's excellent defense should provide great value in 60-game season

Why A's excellent defense should provide great value in 60-game season

Matt Chapman has played three major-league seasons and has two Platinum Gloves. He’s clearly the American League’s best third baseman, an elite defender in every sense. That’s why he was the 2018 Wilson Defensive Player of the Year, someone who saves runs (and games) with his glove.

Matt Olson has played two full MLB seasons and has won a Gold Glove in each one. The A’s first baseman is in the Chapman class at his position.

Those two alone wouldn’t make a defense rock solid. A pronounced weakness or two can downgrade a defense in a hurry.

There are none on this A’s squad.

That’s clear from last year’s metrics, where the A’s ranked high among baseball’s best fielding teams.

They were fifth in fielding percentage in 2019, only .02 points off the lead and were third in defensive efficiency. They were baseball’s best using advanced, signature metrics from FanGraphs that would take a long time to explain.

We can confidently project similar numbers to 2020, with only two positions expected to have new starters.

[RELATED: Why A's pitching depth could prove beneficial in 60-game MLB season]

One of them is catcher Sean Murphy, someone who should be a defensive upgrade over what the A’s had last year. He has thrown out 38 percent of potential base stealers over his professional career. That percentage would have put him in the top 5 in the major leagues last year.

While analyzing defensive metrics isn’t as sexy as a dominant pitching staff or a lineup full of mashers – the A’s have those, too – it’s a virtually slump-free enterprise that can a team can fall back on while struggling in other areas.

The A’s defense has spiked the last two seasons –- Olson and Chapman had something to do with that –- and turned a solid unit into a potentially great one.

"That’s when we turned the corner,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said a few weeks ago on A’s Cast. “We were not a very good defensive team [in 2017], and the psychology of that can really play on a team over 162 games. It can certainly impact the pitchers, too; they pitch a bit differently. Not only are we versatile and good defensively, we have some guys who have changed positions and become really good in the field. … Not only are our guys talented, but they work hard to be good defensively. They take it seriously."

[RELATED: A's GM David Forst details challenges preparing for season in pandemic]

That will be vital during a shortened 60-game season where prolonged lulls can crush playoff hopes even for the deserving teams who likely would qualify over the traditional 162-game slate.

Chapman and Olson are as steady as they come. Shortstop Marcus Semien has improved into a quality defender. Ramon Laureano has a cannon for an arm in centerfield. The corner outfield spots are steady enough to keep the unit strong.

Having confidence in that makes the A’s better overall and should keep them afloat if the pitching or offense falls behind.

Sean Manaea considering wearing mask in starts during 2020 MLB season

Sean Manaea considering wearing mask in starts during 2020 MLB season

With baseball activities picking back up over the weekend, we've seen most players wearing a mask during drills at ballparks around the country.

A's starter Sean Manaea is considering taking the precautionary measure a step further.

While speaking with media in Oakland on Sunday, the left-handed pitcher admitted he's considering wearing a mask during his starts this season.

While MLB isn't forcing players to wear a mask while playing, Manaea's action would go a long way to protecting himself and his A's teammates.

Masks have become a hot-button subject around the country, but baseball players know that they are walking a fine line between playing the 2020 MLB season and having it canceled because too many players contracted the coronavirus.

Even with the season cut down from 162 to 60 games, the A's have high expectations this year, and Manaea's presence on the field will go a long way to determining if they can achieve their goal of winning the World Series or if they will fall short again.

[RELATED: Diekmans appreciate Melvin's message to A's]

Manaea, 28, is expected to be one of the leaders of the A's rotation, along with veteran Mike Fiers. Last season, Manaea pitched in only five games after recovering from left shoulder surgery. But in those five starts, he was dominant, to the tune of a 1.21 ERA and 30 strikeouts in 29 2/3 innings.

The A's need that version of Manaea this season, and if it means wearing a mask during his start, it's a move he's willing to consider.

Jake Diekman's wife appreciates Bob Melvin's message to A's players

Jake Diekman's wife appreciates Bob Melvin's message to A's players

A's reliever Jake Diekman is considered a high-risk player for the 2020 MLB season, but as of now, he has no plans to opt out.

So that means his teammates need to be extra cautious regarding the coronavirus. If one of them contracts the virus, they could pass it to Diekman. That outcome could end up being very bad.

Since the age of 11, Diekman has had ulcerative colitis, a disease that affects the colon. In 2016, Diekman underwent surgery to remove his colon. A year later, he had a second procedure where doctors used his small intestines to create a "J-Pouch," a replacement colon.

No one understands the risk to Diekman more than A's manager Bob Melvin.

During a Zoom conference call with A's reporters Saturday, Melvin mentioned that he plans to address his team Sunday about taking the coronavirus precautions as seriously as possible.

“How important it is to try to stay in as much of a bubble as we possibly can,” Melvin said, according to The San Francisco Chronicle's Matt Kawahara. “It is literally like it is in real life, understanding that you’re doing this for the person next to you, too.

"You’re staying healthy for not only yourself and your family but your teammates and their families.”

Melvin will be sure to mention Diekman.

“His name will come up as well, that it’s very important to take this seriously,” Melvin said, according to Kawahara.

Melvin's comments made their way to Amanda Diekman, Jake's wife.

[RELATED: Diekman dominated TikTok during stoppage]

Melvin is widely loved by his players, and this is another example of why. He cares about all the guys.

The A's acquired Diekman last July from the Kansas City Royals, and re-signed him to a two-year contract this offseason. The 34-year-old is expected to be a key piece of Melvin's bullpen this season.