Eric Chavez and Matt Chapman. There’s plenty of comparisons to be made between the two. They’re both slick fielders. They both have plenty of pop in their bat. Both have last names that begin with a C. And they’re both two of the best players the A’s have had on their teams since the turn of the decade. But who is the better player? Since they debuted at different ages, I will be looking at their age 24 through 26 seasons, as I feel that that is the most equal time frame I can use to compare the two. That means I will be looking at Chavez’s 2002 through 2004 season and Matt Chapman’s 2017 through 2019 seasons.
In his age 24 through 26 seasons, Chavez had 1,884 plate appearances. In that time he put up a .278/.364./.510 triple slash, while hitting 92 home runs and walking 11.8% of the time. He had a 127 wRC+, good enough for 4th among third basemen, and was also third in home runs compared to his contemporaries at the hot corner. But it wasn’t his hitting that made him a star, it was his fielding. In his 3,724.1 innings, Chavez had 18 DRS and 15.5 UZR. If his DRS total seems a little low, it’s because DRS as a stat started being tracked at the start of the 2003 season. Despite having only the 6th most innings at third base in that time, he still had the 5th most DRS and 7th most UZR. Add it all together and Chavez ended up having 15.1 fWAR in that timeframe, placing him fourth among all third basemen between 2002 and 2004. What’s most impressive is that despite having the fourth most WAR, he only had the sixth most plate appearances.
Chapman is at a disadvantage in this comparison. Chavez debuted when he was just 20 and had 3 full major league seasons under his belt before starting his age 24 campaign. Chapman debuted when he was 24, and didn’t get a full season until he was 25. So keep that in mind when I give you his stats. In Chapman’s 1,612 plate appearances, he slashed .257/.341/.500 with 74 home runs and walked 10.9% of the time, giving him a 127 wRC+. He’s tied with Chavez in wRC+, which accounts for the different run environments the two played in, despite having less time to adjust to major league pitching. Very impressive. But despite this, Chapman is 9th in wRC+ and 12th in home runs compared to other third basemen in his time frame. It really shows how much third basemen have improved hitting wise over the past 15 years. But Chapman isn’t known for his hitting. It’s his glove work that makes him famous. It’s also what makes him valuable. In his 3,336.2 innings in the field, Chapman accrued 79 DRS and 35.0 UZR. This is a little unfair to Chavez, as DRS was not measured for his age 24 season. But even not including Chapman’s incredible 34 DRS 2019 season, Chapman still had 45 DRS in 1.5 years. Compared to other third basemen, it’s not even close. Chapman is first in both DRS and UZR by a comfortable margin. Given Chapman was about equal with Chavez offensively, it should come as no surprise that despite having 272 less plate appearances, Chapman has more fWAR, coming in at a mark of 15.5.
Now you might be saying “It’s not fair to Chavez. DRS wasn’t around in one of his years so Chapman is at an advantage” but let me quell those thoughts. I’m using Fangraphs’ version of WAR, which uses UZR to calculate a player’s defensive value. UZR was recorded starting in 2002. In the three year span I used, Chavez had his defense measured. And this isn’t a knock against Chavez. Far from it. He was looking like a Hall of Fame player before injuries hampered his career. Instead, this is my way of putting into perspective how good Chapman is. Despite having less playing time, having less time to adjust to major league pitching, Chapman was still able to edge out Chavez in WAR. Chavez might have looked better when compared to his peers, but Chapman is the better overall player. Matt Chapman is a talent the likes of which we have never seen before.