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Matt Chapman is the best defensive player in all of MLB

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Not just at 3B, but at any position.

Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Oakland A’s fans have known for a full year now that Matt Chapman is the best defensive third baseman in MLB. It’s not particularly close in the AL, and only Nolan Arenado can even be in the conversation league-wide. However, now that Chapman is most of the way through his first full season in the bigs, it’s becoming clear that such a description sells him short. He’s actually the best defensive player in MLB at any position.

We got our first hint of this distinction at the end of April, when Chapman was named baseball’s overall Defensive Player of the Month. The newest signal appeared this week, when SABR tweeted out the leaders of their own defensive metrics (SABR Defensive Index, abbreviated SDI). He’s ahead of everyone at all positions in both leagues, by a lot.

  1. Matt Chapman, +17.2
  2. Kolten Wong, +10.7
  3. Alex Gordon, +10.6
  4. Adam Duvall, +8.1

But that’s just one source’s metric, and a half-season sample is still too small to be fully reliable. Perhaps we should shop around and see what other folks have to say. How about my personal favorite, Defensive Runs Saved?

  1. Matt Chapman, +24
  2. JaCoby Jones, +19
  3. Lorenzo Cain, +17
  4. Harrison Bader, +15
  5. Adam Duvall, +15

Oh goodness. He leads the sport in DRS as well, again by a wide margin. Everyone else on that list is an outfielder, and the next full-time 3B is Jose Ramirez at +9 (tied for 21st overall).

How about Ultimate Zone Rating at FanGraphs?

  1. Matt Chapman, +12.6
  2. Alex Gordon, +11.2
  3. Andrelton Simmons, +10.8
  4. Jose Iglesias, +8.9
  5. Kolten Wong, +8.9

The runner-up is closer this time, but Chapman is still on top in UZR. More importantly, there’s a totally different list of players beneath him than DRS showed, this time heavier on fellow infielders.

Next up is Fielding Runs Above Average, over at Baseball Prospectus.

  1. Matt Chapman, +13.5
  2. Leonys Martin, +13.1
  3. Max Stassi, +12.4
  4. Justin Upton, +11.9
  5. Anthony Rizzo, +11.1

It’s close again, but once more Chapman is on top, ahead of another completely different list of other players. This time there’s a catcher and a first baseman mixed in.

Putting it all together into a table, here’s the Top 11 according to each source (I chose 11 to account for some ties):

# DRS UZR FRAA SDI
1 Chapman (24) Chapman (12.6) Chapman (13.5) Chapman (17.2)
2 Jones (19) Gordon (11.2) Martin (13.1) Wong (10.7)
3 Cain (17) Simmons (10.8) Stassi (12.4) Gordon (10.6)
4 Bader (15) Iglesias (8.9) Upton (11.9) Duvall (8.1)
5 Duvall (15) Wong (8.9) Rizzo (11.1) Cain (7.6)
6 Wong (14) Judge (8.1) Mathis (10.7) Iglesias (7.6)
7 Judge (13) Kinsler (7.9) Engel (10.5) Kinsler (7.6)
8 Rojas (13) Betts (7.9) Grandal (10.5) Dickerson (7.5)
9 Ahmed (12) Cain (7.2) Ahmed (10.3) Semien (7.4)
10 Gordon (12) Martin (7.1) Moustakas (10.2) Judge (7.3)
11 Simmons (12) Seager (7.1) Pillar (9.6) Simmons (7.0)

Just missed: Judge is 12th in FRAA, and Jones is 12th in SDI and 15th in UZR

There are certainly some common names there, but there’s only one thing they all agree on: Chapman is the best. Nobody else even made all four lists. The closest was Aaron Judge, who made three and just missed my arbitrary cutoff in FRAA, but he didn’t crack the Top 5 on any of them. The only players appearing on multiple Top 5’s are Cain, Duvall, Gordon, and Wong, with Wong appearing within the Top 6 three times — but in FRAA, he’s not even in the Top 100.

Four different sources, each using their own unique formulas, came up with more than two dozen names among their Top 10ish defenders. The only thing they all agree on is that Matt Chapman is not only one of the best, but the outright No. 1 overall. Even in a relatively limited sample size, that’s meaningful. And it’s not like he came out of nowhere, as he blew away the metrics last year too in his half-season debut.

Of course, he plays a corner position, so all of this skill can still only bring moderate value, right? Wrong. Here is FanGraphs’ DEF rating, which combines UZR with a positional adjustment:

  1. Andrelton Simmons, 14.9
  2. Matt Chapman, 14.0
  3. Jose Iglesias, 13.3
  4. Francisco Lindor, 10.9
  5. Marcus Semien, 10.1

Note: Wong, Kinsler, Seager, Cain are next

Chapman drops to second place in this regard, but only because he’s being compared against four shortstops. Even with that context, he’s still right on Simmons’ heels. Think about that: Chapman is so next-level amazing at third base that he’s worth as much defensively as an elite shortstop. That is mind-boggling.

While we’re looking at these lists, let’s also appreciate that Semien shows up on a couple of them. He’s high on SDI (9th), UZR (17th), and FRAA (25th), and though DRS has him lower he’s still a positive (+2). Some of that is surely the effect of the elite Matt Olson digging all of his errant throws at 1B, throws that used to go for errors more often, but the eyeball test also suggests that Semien has become a solid fielder in his own right. That’s almost as remarkable as what Chapman is doing, considering Semien’s history.

The best part of all this is that Chapman isn’t only a great fielder. He can also hit.

And he’s got the respect of his peers, too. He’s the A’s nominee for the 2018 Heart & Hustle Award, voted on by current and former players. (One player from each team is nominated; last year it was Yonder Alonso for Oakland, and Brett Gardner of the Yankees won the final award.) Even Rickey Henderson gushed about him.

Indeed, there is no shortage of superlative things you can say about Matt Chapman. He’s also a natural leader and has a strong skull. He’s a special player and a big reason the A’s are shocking the world on an unexpected run toward the postseason. But one thing the entire baseball world seems to be able to agree on is that he’s the best defender in the sport. Hopefully the Gold Glove voters can figure that out at year’s end.

Note: That’s not even one of his better highlights, just the most recent.