Even though Aroldis Chapman is no longer unique in terms of elite fastball velocity, he’s still among the best relievers in all of baseball. But for as great as he’s been in the regular season all these years, 2020 is the second straight year in which he’s given up a homer to send the Yankees packing for the winter.
This wasn’t how the Yankees envisioned Chapman finishing the team’s season when he was first acquired in 2016. It was supposed to be him clinching the last out of a World Series victory. It was supposed to make the acquisition of him (twice, by the way) “worth it” after his domestic violence allegation and suspension. Ick, to put it lightly. Instead, Chapman’s been a mercenary who hasn’t gotten the job done when it’s mattered most. Maybe 2021 will be different, but for now, Chapman’s memories as a Yankee haven’t been very good in spite of the impressive statistics.
A late start to his season
Chapman tested positive for COVID-19 in July and missed the beginning of the regular season. Although he was cleared to return to the team before the end of the month, the closer didn’t get back on the mound for the Yanks until mid-August. As such, the hardthrowing lefty wasn’t the team’s saves leader for the first time since he was initially acquired him for the 2016 season. Zack Britton took the mantle in 2020 with 8 saves to Chapman’s 3.
We only have 13 regular season games to look at, but all indications are that Chapman was his usual self this season. He struck out a ton of batters (48.9 percent) and maintained the same fastball velocity as 2019 (~98 MPH). There were a couple of memorable outings, not in a good way, but there was nothing pointing toward decline for the 32 year-old closer under contract through 2022.
So, about those not so good performances. Chapman blew two saves in the span of a week against the Mets, including getting walked off at Yankee Stadium.
Yeah, 2020 was weird like that. The other blown save came at Citi Field a few days later when JD Davis launched a game tying solo shot to dead center. It came on an 0-2 pitch, too.
Chapman actually had a far more notable outing in between those two games against the Mets, though. In the midst of closing out a 5-3 win against the Rays, Chapman uncorked a 101 MPH fastball above Michael Brosseau’s head.
Benches cleared after the final out and Chapman received a three-game suspension. It was later reduced to two games and will be served at the start of the 2021 season.
Now, as you surely remember, this isn’t where the story ends for Chapman and the Rays. But we’ll save that for a few more paragraphs.
A new addition to the repertoire
Even though we didn’t see too much of Chapman in 2020, we did see him introduce a new pitch to his repertoire: a splitter. He only threw it three times in the regular season and three more times in the playoffs, but it was pretty nasty!
Making anything of a handful of pitches is a fool’s errand, but let’s do it anyway because what do I have to lose? Per Statcast, Chapman’s splitter had 1.6 inches of vertical movement better than average. That would place him just outside of the top ten splitters in the league this year had he qualified. Additionally, his 826 RPM on his splitter was the lowest spin rate on the pitch type in the league (low spin rates are generally good for pitches like splitters, changeups, sinkers).
Look, Chapman doesn’t really need a splitter. He’s got a blazing fastball and a wipeout slider already. We’ve seen him toy with a changeup in past years, though he effectively shelved that pitch in 2020 in favor of his rarely used split. But I’m curious to see how he utilizes this pitch going forward. It certainly looks to have the makings of another out pitch for him.
The Rays get the last laugh
Now, back to the rivalry with Tampa Bay. Chapman picked up a four out save against the Rays in Game 4 of the ALDS, but I doubt that’s the first thing that comes to your mind with the southpaw against the Rays this year. Rather, it was his outing in Game 5.
Chapman entered a tie ballgame in the bottom of the seventh inning and figured to pitch through the ninth inning. As it turned out, he only got to pitch through the eighth. With one out in the eighth inning, Brosseau exacted revenge against Chapman.
It was a pretty epic at-bat for Brosseau and the ultimate revenge. And unfortunately, it’s an all too familiar feeling for Chapman in the postseason. José Altuve walked off Chapman to end the Yankees’ 2019 playoff run, of course. He also took the loss in Game 2 of the 2017 ALCS (bang bang, we’ll cut him some slack here). But also, had the Cubs not overcome his blown save in Game 7 of the 2016 World Series, Chapman’s homer surrendered to Rajai Davis would stick out a bit more.
Now, Chapman’s overall postseason numbers with the Yankees are good. He’s got a 1.71 ERA in 21 innings after all. But nobody’s going to mistake him for Mariano Rivera in the playoffs, of course. And yes, Mo had some memorable blowups in October too, but a much longer track record of big time performances too. Chapman has yet to get that final out in the World Series for the Yankees, which is the ultimate goal. He’s not totally to blame for the Yankees falling short over the past few years, but his duds sure are memorable. Hopefully we don’t have to see him walk off the mound with the Yankees’ season ending (or about to end, in this year’s case) again.
More of the same in 2021, probably. That’s a good thing, of course. Chapman is still an elite reliever and his stuff hasn’t deteriorated into his early thirties. ZiPS projects an excellent 2021: 170 ERA+, 40.8 percent strikeout rate, and a comp to Billy Wagner. That’s pretty darn good. Again, let’s just hope it doesn’t end with another postseason disappointment.