Blue Jays: Putting Matt Chapman's hot start into perspective
By Nigel Clarke
Happy birthday Matt Chapman!
From the moment Matt Chapman showed up to spring training with a substantial amount of added muscle and a contract year gleam in his eye, many were high on his prospects for 2023.
Many, not all.
Back in late-February, when I unveiled my selections for the best possible Blue Jays lineup in 2023, what caused the most uproar amongst a certain segment of fans was not Danny Jansen claiming the DH spot ahead of Brandon Belt, or Whit Merrifield pushing Cavan Biggio and Santiago Espinal to the bench, but the man affectionately known as ‘Contract Year Chappy’ earning a spot in the top four of the batting order, alongside stalwarts Springer, Guerrero, and Bichette.
One month into the season and it seems hard to imagine Chapman anywhere other than a key spot in the Blue Jays lineup.
Putting Matt Chapman's hot start into perspective.
As of right now, Chapman is slashing .364/.446/.659 with five home runs and eleven doubles, leading the American League in batting average, OBP, OPS, and extra base hits, while ranking second in SLG, and leading the entirety of Major League Baseball in WAR.
Yes, it is only one month into the season, and the obligatory ‘it’s early’ qualifier still applies. Surely Chapman’s numbers will normalize. But what does ‘normal’ mean?
In both 2018 and 2019, Chapman finished within the top seven of MVP voting, averaging 30 home runs and 39 doubles with an OPS over .850 while hitting second or third for back-to-back 97-win teams in Oakland.
In 2020, he suffered a hip injury which required surgery, something which Chapman recently told Sportsnet’s Hazel May left him feeling “skinny and weak” for the better part of two years, contributing to performances in 2021 and 2022 which, while not awful, were well below the standard he had set.
If a return to normal for Matt Chapman means a fringe MVP candidate and top-of-the-order slugger for a team chasing 100 wins, then the Blue Jays have got to be licking their chops.
That said, there may be more to Chapman’s hot start than just a return to normal. Look deeper into the stats behind the streak, and what emerges is a suggestion that Chapman’s ‘normal’ might be headed to the next level.
According to Statcast, Chapman’s Average Exit Velocity currently sits in the 98th percentile of Major League Baseball, while both his Hard-hit and Barrel percentages are in the 100th percentile. In each case, Chapman is putting up numbers which far exceed his career highs. On top of that, his Expected Slugging Percentage is actually higher (.761) than the already astonishing actual Slugging Percentage (.659) he has put up so far.
In other words, Chapman is crushing the ball, and, despite leading the league in just about everything, he might actually be underachieving for the type of contact he’s making.
It goes further than that though. During the offseason, Chapman revamped his swing, ditching his longstanding leg kick and replacing it with a gentle toe tap in an effort to allow him to stay behind the baseball. The goal: to make more contact, strike out less, and drive the ball to right field more often.
The results so far have been stunning. To date, 44% of Chapman’s hits have been to the right side of the field, nearly double the number from last year (23%). And it’s not as if he’s just poking the ball the other way. Chapman already has nine extra base hits to the right side (four home runs and five doubles), on pace to obliterate the career high of 25 he had in 2019, and almost as many as he put up in 2022 (five) and 2021 (six) put together.
As might be expected with this type of whole-field approach, Chapman’s Strikeout Rate (23.8%) is way down from where it was each of the past three seasons (27.4%, 32.5%, 35.5%), while his Chase Rate remains exceptional, hovering in the 85th percentile.
Simply, a revamped swing has completely changed Matt Chapman’s hitter profile, unlocking an approach which addresses his longstanding weaknesses with batting average and strikeouts, while allowing him to maintain or even increase his power.
Add to that the obviously exceptional conditioning and a contract year-type of focus Jays fans learned about with Marcus Semien, and the new normal for Matt Chapman may exceed even the most optimistic of projections.
If you’re late to the party, don’t be shy. Hop aboard the ‘Contract Year Chappy’ bandwagon and enjoy the ride!
Can Matt Chapman keep up his blistering pace? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter – @WriteFieldDeep.