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Matt Chapman is an oasis amid Oakland A’s defensive drought

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The defense threw away two winnable games last weekend, but at least Chapman provided positive highlights.

He somehow turned this ball into a quadruple play.
D. Ross Cameron-USA TODAY Sports

The Oakland A’s atrocious defense has been the story of their 2018 season so far. Hopefully it’s a Disney story and this is just the jarringly tragic parental death scene at the beginning, setting up the heartwarming journey of personal growth and triumph! For now, though, all we know is that a barracuda ate all of the A’s gloves. They bobbled and booted the ball all over the stadium against the Angels, snatching a series defeat from the jaws of victory.

Nico already did a full rundown of the weekend’s miscues, but here’s another way to look at it: The Little League-caliber defense may have legitimately cost them two wins, on Saturday and Sunday. Daniel Mengden didn’t make it out of the 6th on Saturday, but only because his teammates forced him to earn six outs in the 3rd (because they botched three of them). Later, with two outs in the 6th, they blew a chance to nab a runner in a gift-wrapped rundown, then missed another catchable ball.

Between those two frames, the Angels scored five runs that never should have happened, runs that didn’t come until after a merely competent defense would have recorded its fourth out of each inning. That’s how you turn a close, winnable affair into an 8-3 blowout loss.

Daniel Gossett experienced the same lack of support on Sunday. He wasn’t dominant by any means, failing to strike out any of the 18 batters he faced, but every run he allowed was undeserved on his part. In the 2nd he induced a popup for what should have been the third out, but his teammates called each other off and let it drop to extend the inning (video link). Two ensuing extra-base hits capitalized on the mistake, including one batter who hit a drive literally off of Khris Davis’ glove. In the 5th, another drop by Khrush set up another two-run rally, during a frame in which the Angels had only one other hit. With competent defense behind him, Gossett may have made it to the 5th scoreless and lasted much deeper into the game.

Making the whole situation even dumber is that virtually none of those blatant screwups were ruled as errors. Oakland has only three official errors so far:

  • Matt Joyce letting the ball go by at the end of Friday night (not for missing an easy catch, mind you, just letting the runner advance)
  • Marcus Semien botches an easy GIDP grounder and gets zero outs
  • Boog Powell overruns a grounder to CF and lets the runners advance

That’s it. Everything else was ruled a full hit. Khrush should already have three errors, with two balls that hit directly off his glove and another that sailed right past him even though he was easily in position to reach it. Instead, Mengden and Gossett have enormous ERAs from all the “earned” runs they “allowed.” I’m at a point where I honestly don’t understand what an outfielder has to do to earn an error on a missed catch, nor why we even bother tracking such an inconsistent, illogical, and therefore useless stat.

All of that is the bad news. Now it’s time for the good news, buried under several paragraphs of venting. The good news is that Matt Chapman is here, and he’s still glorious at the hot corner.

Entering the season, the expectation was that the A’s were going to be better at defense than they’ve been the last few years. However, that statement requires clarification: It’s not that the entire team is now adequate, but rather that a few positions are now good-to-great to help offset their Custian surroundings. Only half to two-thirds of the diamond is embarrassing now, which is indeed a marked improvement even though it’s not a fully solved problem.

While the rest of the team flailed around helplessly, Chapman made an excellent play in nearly every game. He got right to it on Opening Day, with a new (maybe better?) version of Josh Donaldson’s Tarp Catch:

The reason I ask if it was better than Donaldson’s is that Chapman began at the shortstop position due to a defensive shift. He didn’t go tumbling as hard as Donaldson, but he probably covered more ground to get there.

Next up was Saturday. This play is closer to human than Chapman’s usual android routine, especially with Albert Pujols running, but it’s still impressive.

Finally, he stepped up once again on Sunday, helping Gossett out of a jam rather than creating one for him. The catch on this ball is fairly routine, but the heads-up play and quick, strnng throw turn it into an inning-ending double play.

Not a bad start to a Gold Glove campaign! In the interest of full disclosure I must admit that even Chapman messed up once this weekend. Chris Hatcher relieved on Sunday and ran into trouble, though mostly BABIP nickel-and-dime style (nothing but four singles). The final blow came on a grounder to the left side, which squirted past Chapman to plate the final two insurance runs. It wasn’t right at him and I didn’t follow up on the replays too closely, but my initial impression was that he could have at least knocked the ball down to save one of the runs. Either way, though, he had a characteristically top-notch series in the field.

Actually, to be fair he only needs to cover eight positions. That’s because the other Matt is looking like a wizard at 1B in his own right. Olson showed some mobility and quick reflexes while catching this short popup, but his real gem came on Friday. His mobility is on display again, along with impressive athleticism and sure hands. The video is below, but you might want to click here for the hypnotic GIF version.

Between these two upcoming stars, and an adequate 2B/SS situation (notwithstanding the error by Semien, who has otherwise looked strong), the A’s infield is no longer a glaring weakness and might actually be a plus. But dang, the outfield has been brutal, as has Bruce Maxwell behind the plate. Chapman has been an oasis amid this defensive drought, but he can’t solve it all on his own. The rest of the club is going to have to shape up around him, as soon as possible.

Final note: Players aren’t the only ones shaking off the rust in the first week of the season. Somehow this call went all the way to replay review and the umpires still got it wrong.