Much of the A’s success falls on the team’s pitching, which has been surprisingly competent all year long. A huge portion of that work, relatively speaking at least, has been done by the fantastic bullpen which has shortened games and rescued the A’s starters.
But the rotation has more than held its own, and in spite of looking rather hodgepodge, has been above average. That group has done one thing particularly well - get groundballs. That’s a smart move in front of this defense. The A’s infield is the second best in baseball in turning groundballs into outs. Opponents are hitting just .208 on groundballs, a whopping .032 below the league average.
Last year, the A’s batting average against on groundballs stood .028 points higher at .236. If you go back to the dark days before Matt Chapman sported a big league jersey, that number stood at .249. You’ll recall the A’s were an abysmal defensive team during the three year period where 100 losses looked decidedly possible. Now, the A’s are an above average team by most defensive metrics with the chance to get even better.
A’s defensive numbers
These are the full team numbers, not the infield. Still positive, especially compared to say, 2016.
Have a bunch of gifs
Any article about the A’s infield is really just an excuse re-up Matt Chapman gifs, new and old.
Add another to Matt Chapman's insane highlight reel #RootedInOakland pic.twitter.com/BmTb9AGrHL— Oakland Athletics ⚾️ (@Athletics) August 14, 2018
Just in awe of Matt Chapman at this point, TBH.#RootedInOakland pic.twitter.com/hMMMpwlzhl— Oakland Athletics ⚾️ (@Athletics) May 30, 2018
Matt and Matt: The most dynamic duo since Fred and George.#RootedInOakland pic.twitter.com/fqKUpzqauo— Oakland Athletics ⚾️ (@Athletics) August 5, 2018
Matt Chapman: Noted Force user. #GreenFridays pic.twitter.com/xnASDtTS7u— Oakland Athletics ⚾️ (@Athletics) May 26, 2018
The infield is working together
One of the biggest transformations has happened at short. Marcus Semien has been at his defensive best so far this year per every advanced defensive metric, completing the transformation from overwhelmed to totally competent shortstop. Small sample defensive metrics should always be taken with a grain of salt, but Semien putting up great numbers makes a ton of sense in context. To his right is arguably (I’m only saying arguably to be extremely generous) the best defender in baseball, sucking up just about every groundball in sight. At first is human vacuum cleaner Matt Olson, snagging errant throws high and low.
Let’s start with Matt the third baseman. Mr. Chapman is far and away the best defender in baseball this season per just about every defensive statistic. He’s good in every aspect of the game, particularly in terms of range. With his absolute cannon of an arm, Chapman is able to get to a number of balls that might otherwise fall to Semien’s weak side. Something like this.
Fitting that we wore the yellow tonight, because Matt Chapman was smooth as butter with the glove. #RootedInOakland pic.twitter.com/6Zb3YkC2Qz— Oakland Athletics ⚾️ (@Athletics) April 17, 2018
It’s not easy to put numbers with those anecdotes, though a quick perusal of Semien’s missed plays from the pre and post Chapman era do show a change.
Across the diamond is Matt Olson, behemoth. It’s hard to put Olson’s exact defensive value into a number, and I’d bet in a few years we’ll have an exciting new stat that tells us how many putouts he completes with his enormous wingspan.
For now, we have a few ways we can gauge it. For one, we know that Matt Olson leads the league in scoops by a solid margin. We don’t know how many scoop opportunities (scooportunities) he’s had, nor the rest of the league. Every raw number is relative, and it makes sense that Matt Olson has the most scoops since he’s had a lot of opportunities. The A’s get a decent number of groundballs and as we’ve discussed, they convert a huge percentage into outs.
But as you’ve noticed anecdotally, Olson is a good scooper.
Matt Olson: More scoops than your local ice cream shop.#RootedInOakland pic.twitter.com/vqtpczhuCa— Oakland Athletics ⚾️ (@Athletics) June 22, 2018
He’s saved many outs, preventing errors and ensuring Matt Chapman’s gems are completed as highlight real plays.
It doesn’t stop with scoops either. At 6’5”, Olson is a huge target to flag down throws of all types. Again, not something we can suss out with Statcast or anything like that (yet) but we can tell that the A’s infielders are making a huge number of plays with very few throwing errors with Olson flagging down throws high and low. If Chapman and Semien have defensive flaws, is that’s they do uncork a fair number of inaccurate throws. Olson saves them.
Every successful team needs to fit together, and a huge reason why this A’s team is overachieving is their cohesion. The pitching staff isn’t amazing in isolation, but with a top notch defense behind them, have been able to prevent runs. That defense mixes a stud defender and a master scooper to elevate their more average counterparts. That’s teamwork!