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Oakland A’s third baseman Matt Chapman was off to a cold start to the 2021 season, but has started to turn it around the past couple of weeks. He’s hitting .226/.328/.399 on the year, which includes the lowest batting average and slugging percentage of his career. While a lot of hitters are having a down year so far, this pattern for Chapman extends through the 2020 season. This is in part due to a season-ending hip surgery, but let’s see what’s going on and why he might be on his way back up.
Looking at some underlying numbers, Chapman’s strikeout rate this season and last is well above league average and significantly higher than those of previous years of his career. Unique to the 2021 season is his hard-hit percentage being way down, at 39%. The past three seasons Chapman’s hard-hit percentage was over 48%, which is elite.
Checking his expected stats, they are in line with his actuals. Expected stats consider components like launch angle and exit velocity. Chapman’s launch angle in 2021 is consistent with those throughout his career, with the closest match being his 2019 all-star season. His average exit velocity, however, is the lowest of his career at 88.7 mph.
Chapman’s average exit velocity 2018-2020 was in the top 4% or higher in the majors. This season, it is much closer to that of a league average hitter. As a result, his stat line is also closer to, and actually below, that of a league average hitter.
Chapman is being pitched the same as years prior, but is whiffing significantly more against fastballs and breaking pitches. His 35% whiff against fastballs is particularly high. The high whiff percentages against fastballs and breaking pitches are a bit concerning because his plate discipline remains above average, with an exceptionally good chase rate (5% less chase than league average) and walk rate (13%) on the year so far. More simply put, he is seeing the ball well, but is just not making contact.
That being said, Chapman is seeing off-speed pitches well and is whiffing against them significantly less than league average.
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Is Chapman Going to Improve this Season?
Improving the whiff percentage will be challenging, but Chapman’s plate discipline stats are consistent with years prior and remain above average. Despite the swing and miss concern, Chapman is still seeing the ball well and will hopefully start making more contacts versus fastballs.
Another good sign is that while his average exit velocity on the year is significantly lower than years prior, it has been on the upswing the past couple of weeks. Going back to June 14th, Chapman’s average exit velocity is elite at over 95 mph. This can only help, as Chapman’s other components (launch angle, line drive percentage, fly ball percentage etc.) remain consistent with those of his career.
Chapman missed time in 2020 due to a hip strain, which was followed by season-ending surgery. It’s possible that he just needed some time to re-adjust and get his timing back. If he maintains his quality contact, I think we’ll start to see Chapman look like his old self.