One of the many fun exercises we go through as baseball fans is trying to pick out who can win the MVP award before the first pitch on Opening Day. Of course, you rattle off the usual suspects: Mike Trout, Juan Soto, Trea Turner, Aaron Judge, the list goes on. Then there are the new guys too: Shohei Ohtani, Vlad Guerrero Jr., and Juan Soto. It’s fun and exciting, baseball arguably has never had more pure talent across the league.
But today let’s focus on a player who has been in the league for a handful of years, is coming off an injury in 2020 and a down year in 2021, but was an MVP candidate just a few years ago. Just in case you happened to miss the title, we’re talking about Matt Chapman, the new third baseman of the Toronto Blue Jays.
Shortly after the lockout ended Toronto acquired Chapman from the Oakland A’s (who are tearing it all down) for a package of prospects, a move that further entrenched the Jays as the team to look out for this season.
Acquiring Chapman was lauded as a great move for Toronto, as he is one of, if not the best defensive third baseman in the entire league and that kind of talent will help their pitchers. But he also lengthens their lineup and brings some offensive firepower as well.
Now admittedly if you look at Chapman’s last two seasons (which includes the shortened 2020 season) it might not seem that way. A slightly-above-average wRC+ of 104 and an OPS of .767 with 37 home runs over 188 games. Decent, but not the MVP caliber we saw from 2018 through 2019 where Chapman posted a 132 wRC+ and .856 OPS and hit 36 homers in 2019 alone.
So what makes us think that Chapman can reach those peak levels again, the level where he finished sixth in MVP voting (2019) and posted a 6+ WAR?
Well, let’s look at that 2019 season. The surface-level numbers were great, 36 homers, 91 RBI, and an .848 OPS. This, of course, with his usual stellar defense which ranked in the 99th percentile by outs above average. His peripheral numbers at the plate were similarly excellent: a 47.8% hard-hit rate and a 92.7 mph average exit velocity, both of which ranked in the 96th percentile of baseball. A barrel rate in the 85th percentile as well as plate discipline that ranked in the top quarter of the league by chase rate and walk rate.
Now across the board, Chapman struggled in 2020 and 2021, he didn’t hit higher than .232 while also struggling with injury. He missed 33 of 60 games in 2020 dealing with a hip injury, which eventually led to surgery, that Chapman admitted led to him developing some bad habits at the plate. And by looking at the numbers you can see that effect in 2021, almost everything went down: his exit velocity, his hard-hit rate, his walk rate, and his plate discipline.
However, in 2021 there were still things we can see that still point to Chapman returning to his former levels. He went from a walk rate in the 13th percentile in 2020 to a dramatically improved rate in the 91st percentile in 2021, the highest of his career. Chapman’s chase rate improved from 2020 to 2021 as well, going from the 63rd percentile to the 82nd. While the power numbers weren’t necessarily there, he still was able to hit 27 home runs on a recovering hip. So it’s encouraging that despite the dip in contact and power, Chapman was able to get back a lot of the plate discipline he had in 2018 and 2019. And of course, Chapman’s defense was still excellent in 2021, remaining in the 99th percentile by OAA.
Now for some stats that mean probably nothing, but could mean something:
- Matt Chapman has a career .931 OPS in his new home park (57 PA)
- Matt Chapman has an .804 OPS at Tropicana Field
- Matt Chapman has an .850 OPS at Camden Yards
- Matt Chapman has an .881 OPS at Yankee Stadium
- Matt Chapman has a ..638 OPS at Fenway
- Matt Chapman also is slashing .350/.364/.700 this spring
Narrative-wise, Chapman is fully healthy now, has a nice new contract that buys out his final years of arbitration, and is on arguably the best team in the American League with other stars that people will be eager to watch. With his stellar defense and a return of his power numbers in 2022, if you’re the betting type you can bet on Matt Chapman to win the American League MVP award at 100-1 odds.
(Photo by Cody Glenn/Icon Sportswire)