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Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman doesn’t know why he’s struggling to miss bats – CBSSports.com

Friday night, the Yankees opened the second half of their season the same way the first half ended: with the bullpen blowing a lead. This time it was closer Aroldis Chapman, who failed to retire any of the five batters he faced and issued a walk-off walk to Andrew Benintendi (BOS 5, NYY 4).

To be sure, the game-losing rally wasn’t entirely on Chapman. The inning started with back-to-back infield singles and there’s really nothing anyone could have done about that. Second baseman Ronald Torreyes also booted a routine ground ball for an error. That doesn’t make the loss any easier for the Yankees to stomach, of course, but that’s what happened.

Chapman was charged with two runs without recording an out, giving him a very un-Chapman-like 3.92 ERA this season. Perhaps the biggest red flag from Friday’s outing was the one swing-and-miss he generated out of 23 pitches. Chapman has been baseball’s preeminent bat-misser over the last few seasons, yet last night he couldn’t get that whiff when he needed it.

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All of a sudden, Aroldis Chapman can’t get his fastball by hitters.
USATSI

Even with a 14.8 K/9 this season, Chapman has had a tough time getting swings and misses lately. He’s generated only 11 whiffs out of 115 total pitches in his last six appearances, or 9.6 percent. The MLB average is 10.4 percent. His career average is 17.4 percent.

Check out the whiffs-per-swing rate on his fastball specifically:

  • 2015: 41.0 percent (18.5 percent)
  • 2016: 32.8 percent (18.8 percent)
  • 2017: 26.4 percent (19.7 percent)

Ominous trend is ominous. The league average whiffs-per-swing rate keeps climbing gradually while Chapman’s has slipped considerably the last three seasons. For sure, he is still comfortably above average at getting empty swings, but the whiffs-per-swing rate on his heater is down roughly 35 percent from as recently as 2015. That’s not good.

To make matters worse, Chapman doesn’t really know why he’s been unable to miss bats this year like he has in the past. Here’s what he said following Friday’s loss:

The weird thing is Chapman’s velocity is fine. He averaged 99.7 mph and topped out at 102.1 mph on Friday. His season average fastball velocity (100.1 mph) is on par with last year (101.1 mph) and the year before (100.4 mph). And yet, the swings and misses aren’t coming as easily as they once did.

The way I see it, there are five possible explanations here.

  1. Chapman is in decline. His fastball may have the same velocity, but there’s less “life” on the pitch, and hitters have an easier time getting the bat to the ball. Chapman is only 29, though there’s basically no precedent for a pitcher throwing this hard for this long.
  2. Chapman has a World Series hangover. Chapman threw a lot of high-pressure innings in October and he had a shorter offseason to recover. He wouldn’t be the first pitcher to deal with a World Series hangover. Heck, most of the Cubs are going through it.
  3. Chapman is hurt. Remember, Chapman did miss a little more than a month with shoulder inflammation earlier this season. He could still be dealing with some lingering shoulder issues even if the doctors give him the thumbs up and everything checks out medically.
  4. This is just a blip. It’s entirely possible Chapman’s inability to generate swings and misses these last six outings is just a small blip on the radar. It could be a slump, basically, not an indication of a larger problem. Relievers slump like everyone else.
  5. The book is out on Chapman. Is it possible that after parts of eight seasons in MLB, hitters are finally figuring out how to get to Chapman? You know the guy is going to come after you with 100-plus, but if you’re ready for it, it’s easier to hit. Yankees manager Joe Girardi had an interesting theory on that. From David Lennon of Newsday:

It was only the third time in 24 appearances this season that Chapman failed to record a strikeout, but he and Joe Girardi spoke as if Friday night’s struggle was more of a growing trend than an aberration.

“Guys are getting used to seeing hard throwers,” Girardi said.

Whatever it is, Chapman has not been nearly as effective this season as he has in the past, and that should worry the Yankees because he is not even four full months into a five-year, $86 million contract. New York’s recent bullpen woes are not entirely on Chapman — Tyler Clippard has been dreadful and Dellin Betances has had extreme control problems lately — but he is part of the problem.

Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman doesn’t know why he’s struggling to miss bats – CBSSports.com

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