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.
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."
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.