Aroldis Chapman is back to being the top closer in the majors

The pinstriped career of Aroldis Chapman has had its ups-and-downs. When Brian Cashman went out and traded for the hard-throwing left-hander, Yankees fans thought he, along with fellow-lefty Andrew Miller, were the missing pieces needed for another World Series run. But the veterans broke down, the prospects weren’t ready, and it was the Chicago Cubs that Chapman would help lead to a World Series title in 2016 (but not before the Yankees received a certain middle-infielder by the name of Gleyber Torres in exchange). When he entered free agency again after 2016, Cashman jumped at the opportunity to bring the elite closer back to the Bronx in hopes of a playoff berth. While the Yankees did make it to the ALCS in 2017, the season ended up being one of the worst of Chapman’s career. After a few minor injuries, trouble with command, and building up his breaking pitch, Aroldis Chapman is back to being one of the most-feared relievers in baseball in 2018.

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While it was by no means a bad year by conventional standards, 2017 was a smudge on the legacy of the Cuban southpaw. Posting a 3.22 ERA in 52 appearances, it was just the second time in his career that Chapman had posted an ERA over 3.00 (the first since his first full Major League season in 2011). More concerning were Chapman’s occasional struggles with command. He walked 20 batters in 50.1 innings, typically compounding those walks in separate appearances. Sometimes Chapman was absolutely dominating, and sometimes Yankees fans would have to watch his save attempts with hands over their eyes, hoping he could find the glove and get some swings and misses before walking in the tying or winning runs.
It’s hard to complain about a guy who only blows four saves while locking down 22, but when combined with the fact that Chapman dealt with minor injuries throughout the year that shelved him with D.L. stints, Yankees fans were concerned. Moreover, Chapman is currently the third-highest paid reliever in baseball, while his stats were relatively middle-of-the road for closers. Coming into 2018, no one really knew what the Yankees would get from Chapman. Would he be the flamethrower who struck fear in the hearts of opposing batters, or did Joe Maddon and company do their part to destroy Chapman’s arm through shear work-load down the stretch in 2016? Luckily for Yankees fans, the answer appears to be the former.
Now posting a 1.30 ERA with 17 saves already under his belt, Chapman appears to be back to form. At the same time, though, Chapman looks different than when he was dominating the N.L. with the Cincinnati Reds and the Cubs. Perhaps due to the fact that a large part of Chapman’s recent success has been his lack of reliance on his 100-plus m.p.h. fastball and more faith in his wipeout slider. Chapman began featuring his breaking pitch more in 2016, and now he throws it just slightly less-often that his premiere heater. He has started going to the slide-piece when he loses command of his fastball, and typically to great success. Chapman has shown the ability to dot the outside corner with the pitch to righties and get lefty’s to chase it out of the zone. This pitch is a big part of the reason his K/9 ratio (15.6) is the highest it’s been since he was an All-Star in 2015. While Chapman is still walking batters at a concerning clip (4.2 BB/9, also his highest since 2015), he’s allowing his fewest H/9 (4.2) since 2014.
Photo Credit: Adam Hunger | AP

Whether it’s the development of his secondary pitches, confidence, or finally being healthy, Aroldis Chapman appears to be the same guy that netted New York one of the best young players in the game back in 2016. This is music to a Yankees fans ears, as Chapman is under contract through at least next season, with options that could keep him in Pinstripes through 2021. Now all that’s left is for him to help bring a World Series trophy back to the Bronx, but given his recent success Chapman does not appear to be the part of that formula the fans should be concerned about.

Article by: Jonathan Kohut


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