To watch Matt Chapman play third base is to appreciate — if you didn’t already — the beauty of great defense.
“Breathtaking,” says A’s manager Bob Melvin.
Chapman makes extraordinary plays look routine. He does it so often that even his teammates lose perspective of his greatness. Because Chapman plays on the West Coast, he’s not nearly as well known as he should be.
The A’s have two other players — shortstop Marcus Semien and first baseman Matt Olson — in that category. And if I were king of the world, they’d all be household names (or close to it). I wouldn’t stop there. Here’s my top nine:
1) Matt Chapman, 3B, A’s
His 14 Outs Above Average trailed only Nolan Arenado (his former teammate at El Toro High School in Lake Forest, Calif.) and was six more than his closest competitor (Josh Donaldson). Oh, and Chapman just set a career high with 36 home runs.
2) Ketel Marte, 2B, D-backs
His fifth Major League season was the definition of a breakout performance, as he finished fourth in National League Most Valuable Player Award voting with a full stat line: 97 runs, 36 doubles, nine triples, 32 homers and 10 stolen bases. He shuttled between the keystone and center field in 2019, but he’ll be a full-time second baseman after Arizona acquired Starling Marte.
3) Nick Anderson, RHP, Rays
Think Josh Hader. Think elite stuff. Only the Brewers' closer generated a higher number of swings and misses than Anderson in 2019 (42 percent to 37.9). Wait, there’s more. Anderson’s swing-and-miss rate jumped to an insane 43.1 percent after the Rays acquired him from the Marlins at the July 31 Trade Deadline. He had two walks and 41 strikeouts in 21 1/3 innings (23 games) for Tampa Bay.
4) Marcus Semien, SS, A’s
His relentless work ethic has resulted in an uptick in every part of his game the last three seasons, culminating with a monster 2019 in which he finished third in American League MVP voting after a 123-run, 43-double season. He swung at a career-low 23.1 percent of pitches outside the strike zone, resulting in a career-high 87 walks vs. only 102 strikeouts.
5) Jeff McNeil, 3B, Mets
He’s penciled in to be the Mets' regular third baseman after making 123 starts at five positions in his first full season. He exceeded every expectation with an All-Star season that included 38 doubles, 23 homers and a .916 OPS.
6) Max Muncy, 1B/2B, Dodgers
Remember when Muncy was a really cool story (released by the A's in 2017, signed a Minor League contract with the Dodgers and spent a year in the Minors retooling his swing mechanics)? He’s way past that now thanks to 2018 and '19 seasons that established him as one of baseball’s best players. Over that time, he ranked sixth in the NL in OPS (.927), home runs (70) and walks (169) and eighth in on-base percentage (.381). He has started games at first, second and third, and also played a little left field.
7) Emilio Pagán, RHP, Padres
The Rays' bullpen is so deep that they traded one of the most dominant relievers in the game to acquire center fielder Manuel Margot. Pagán used a devastating sinker/slider combination in 2019 to lead the Majors with a .221 expected weighted on-base average. His .174 expected batting average was sixth in the Majors among pitchers who faced at least 200 hitters.
8) Trevor Story, SS, Rockies
Story has turned into a complete player and been rewarded with spots on the NL All-Star team the last two seasons. Because he plays next to Nolan Arenado, a future Hall of Famer, Story is not fully appreciated. Last season, his 15 Outs Above Average ranked seventh in MLB. And he’s been incredibly consistent on offense, hitting 35 homers last year and 37 in 2018, with a wRC+ of 121 and 128, respectively.
9) Mike Clevinger, RHP, Indians
Clevinger is the new ace of a starting staff that could be as good as any, though his recovery from left knee surgery is one of the lingering questions about the Indians' season. His 2.90 ERA over the last two seasons ranks third in the AL among pitchers with at least 300 innings. Right-handed batters have hit .199 against him over the last three seasons, the best in the AL.