After years of toiling away at the bottom of baseball, the Oakland A’s are in line to bounce back thanks to the Matt’s on the Corner.
To say the Oakland A’s have been listless in recent years is to be nice about it. Since trading away Josh Donaldson prior to the 2015 season, the A’s have yet to finish with a winning record since. But Oakland has a bright future on the corners with Matt Chapman and Matt Olson.
Oakland has always been a team with character. Of course, we all know the Moneyball story made famous by Brad Pitt, depicting the infamous A’s general manager Billy Beane constructing a competitive team out of underappreciated players. Beane’s goal was to find cost-efficient talent uncovered using advanced sabermetrics to field a winning ball club that fit Oakland’s budget.
Essentially, the movie dives into at what every team is currently using to evaluate players, and exactly what Beane has been doing for his ball club since 2002. Acquiring assets, grooming young talent, and acknowledging the right time to move on from pieces in exchange for more talent.
Recently, the A’s have done much more selling than buying, but the days of selling off talent at the deadline may be coming to an end soon, as both Matt Chapman and Matt Olson start to make a name for themselves in the league.
Who are these guys?
Oakland isn’t a team that’s going to get too many national games during the season, even when they do have a competitive team, so it’s fair if you may not know who either Olson or Chapman is.
Both are 24-year-old former 1st round picks and both feature premier power at the plate, particularly Olson who mashed 24 homers in just 59 games last season.
Chapman, a stellar 3rd baseman, quickly found himself on news highlights with his incredible defense last season. For reference, only Nolan Arenado saved more defensive runs at 3B last season, and Chapman played almost half as many games as the Colorado superstar.
Oh, and only Mike Trout, Didi Gregorius, Mookie Betts, and teammate Jed Lowrie can best his 1.3 WAR on the current season.
Here’s the 24-year-old gunning down speedster Dee Gordon on a slick pick and throws on a bunt attempt, making the play look far too easy.
He didn’t even need to grab the ball bare-handed, making the transition from glove to hand seamlessly. But he’s not just a wizard with the glove, Chapman has easy 20-home run power potential. Here’s him taking Angles rookie sensation Shohei Ohtani deep to right-center field.
The dude has no problem hurting baseballs, and with the lineup the A’s currently have constructed, he should see plenty of pitches like this one to drive. Chapman does have his flaws, he has a tendency to strikeout, doing so in 28.2 percent of his at-bats last season.
However, the young budding star has already cut his strikeout rate down to 20.9 percent, close to an eight-point decrease from last season. And his plate discipline has improved massively so far this season, as Rian Watt of Fangraphs points out here.
He’s cut down on the number of pitches he swings at outside the zone from 26.6 percent last season to 19 percent, which has lead to an almost 10 percent increase in contact rate on pitches outside the zone.
And his increased plate awareness has led to a nearly 8 percent decrease in first-pitch strikes, meaning Chapman is seeing more pitches while avoiding falling behind in counts. This radical of a change in approach has turned Chapman from a so-so prospect into a cornerstone 3rd baseman that the A’s feel they can build around.
But then you factor in massive Matt Olson and his funky swing, Oakland is building something special here.
Olson and his swing
The other Matt in Oakland made quite the impression last season, playing only 59 games but still managed to finish 3rd on the team in home runs. Olson has been so good in his first 90+ games, he has even drawn comparisons to current Red Sox slugger J.D. Martinez.
With his hulking 6’5″ 230 lbs. frame, Olson’s power doesn’t surprise many. He’s going to strike out a lot, currently, he’s going down on strikes in close to 40 percent of his at-bats. However, when the 24-year-old does make contact, the ball is usually leaving the yard.
What does surprise people about Olson though, is his unorthodox stance at the plate.
Take a look at how he holds his bat away from his body and slowly brings it closer and into a hitting position as the pitcher releases the ball. Olson made this adjustment prior to the start of last season, complaining that he felt like his hands weren’t getting to the ball as cleanly as he wanted.
Here’s a side by side comparison of his swing prior to 2017 and his current swing.
In an excellent story from Julian McWilliams of the Athletic, Olson talks about how and why he made the change to the awkward looking stance he uses now.
"“What brought it up was I felt myself getting stuck. My hands would be back here,” Olson said, demonstrating how far back his hands were tucked into his body before the switch. “And I felt like I couldn’t get a clear path to the ball. So I was rotating my front side in order to get to the ball. So, I said, ‘You know what, I’m going to put my hands out here (away from my body) and have a clear path.’"
Olson claims that despite him looking uncomfortable at the plate, he now has more balance with his bat, allowing him to build momentum prior to the swinging. His hard contact numbers support this as well, registering 40.3 percent last season, and even more impressive 47.7 percent to start 2018. Keep in mind, average hard contact rates for 1B was around 36.5% last season.
And if the numbers don’t prove it, take a look at this dinger.
It’s still early on in both of these young Matt’s careers, but if the Athletics are going to build a constant winner in Oakland, having a poor mans Nolan Arenado and J.D. Martinez isn’t the worst way to turn around a franchise. Leave it to the man who invited Moneyball to pluck two corner infielders with incredible upside.
But if you still have trouble recognizing either Chapman or Olson after reading this article, that likely won’t be the case in the not so distance future.