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Matt Chapman’s Strikeout (non) Problem

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MLB: Spring Training-Oakland Athletics at Chicago Cubs
Matt Chapman takes might swings and has ha problems with strikeouts, but does he have a strikeout problem?
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

I want to take a moment to discuss one the more polarizing prospects in the Oakland A’s farm system: Matt Chapman.

The former-first round pick has terrorized opposing minor league pitchers the past two seasons with his plus-power, but he’s also made a name for himself as one of baseball’s best young defenders.

“Chapman has one of the best third base gloves I’ve ever seen,” John Sickels wrote in his top-200 prospects report.

Despite at least two elite skills Chapman doesn’t fare too well when it comes to major prospect rankings.

Matt Chapman’s Prospect Status

Publication Ranking
Publication Ranking
MLB.com top-100 100
Fangraphs top-100 Not Listed
Minor League Ball top-200 (Sickels) 80
Baseball Prospectus top-101 Not Listed
Baseball America top-100 94

Even the publications that rank him don’t list him that highly. That’s because Matt Chapman has a strikeout problem. Nobody really denies his elite power and defensive capabilities, but the lack of contact has been worrisome.

My question, though, is this: does Matt Chapman really have a strikeout problem?

Matt Chapman’s 2015-2016 Stats

Year Level PAs BB% K% ISO
Year Level PAs BB% K% ISO
2015 A+ 352 11.1 22.4 0.316
2016 AA 504 11.7 29.2 0.276
2016 AAA 102 11.8 33.3 0.289
Fangraphs.com

In 2015 at high-A Stockton Chapman posted a strikeout rate that was right around the middle of the pack, but his BB/K was in the top half of the league. At double-A Midland in 2016 Chapman posted the league’s highest strikeout rate, but again, he posted one of the better BB/K rates as well as the best ISO.

Hi 29 percent K-rate in 2016 at double-A stands out like a cry for help — I don’t think it is, though.

Matt Chapman’s Month-by-Month Splits

Month Level PAs BB% K% ISO
Month Level PAs BB% K% ISO
April AA 98 14.3 21.4 0.333
May AA 123 11.4 38.2 0.202
June AA 101 7.9 33.7 0.217
July AA 124 13.7 25 0.269
August AA 58 10.3 24.1 0.462
August AAA 72 12.5 29.2 0.238
September AAA 30 10 43.3 0.407
Fangraphs.com

You’ll notice that in three of the five months he spent in double-A Chapman struck out in 25 percent or less of his plate appearances. Don’t get me wrong, 25 percent is still a large number, and one that talent evaluators are prone to dislike. 25 percent, though, isn’t nearly as bad as his overall season mark of 29 percent, and demonstrates to me that is capable of making adjustments. While May and June might have difficult months for Chapman’s contact woes, he dropped back under the 25 percent threshold for the remainder of his double-A stay all the while posting very strong walk rates.

We’re about two weeks into spring training and Chapman might be proving correct my notion that his strikeout problem to date might not actually be a problem. Through 10 games Chapman has received 21 PAs, good for 10th most on the team. He has the third most walks with five and only has five strikeouts. I try not to put much stock into spring training stats, but somethings make you take notice of a player. In this case Chapman’s patience is causing me to do that.

He hasn’t sacrificed any power in order to make more contact, either as his slugging percentage is closer to .600 than .500.

I have high hopes for Chapman. His defense is so good that his rise to the major leagues is inevitable. Whether or not he stays in the big leagues will hinge on his ability to make contact with the baseball. I believe he can, but what do you think?