The Runner Sports

Aroldis Chapman Needs To Lock Back In Mentally

Aroldis Chapman has been going through a bit of a rough stretch. In the past week, Chapman has allowed more earned runs (5) than batters he has struck out (4). His last two appearances have seen him give up two home runs to two rookies. Both Rafael Devers and Amed Rosario have taken Chapman deep this week as the Yankees’ closer was going for the save. Devers tied the game with his solo shot on Sunday night while Rosario closed the gap to one on Tuesday. With a combined 33 games between the two rookies, the young players made Chapman look even more vulnerable. Since returning from the DL in June, Chapman has not been the same pitcher that started the season in 2017.

On June 18, Aroldis Chapman made his first appearance after spending over a month on the DL with a shoulder injury. Many believe that Chapman’s symptoms started during the series with the Chicago Cubs in May. Before that series, Chapman had an ERA of 0.79. After surrendering three runs to the Cubs in a blown save then another run against the Houston Astros after getting some time off, Chapman went to the DL. Since returning from the DL, Chapman has an ERA of 4.09 in 22 innings pitched.

Diving deeper into Chapman’s post-DL statistics, it is easy to see where the runs are coming from. In addition to 18 hits that Chapman has allowed, Chapman has walked 10 batters. All of those walks have come since July 9. From July 9 to today, Chapman’s ERA is 4.20 in 15 innings pitched. Those 10 walks have been killing both Chapman and his effectiveness as the closer. Not only did Chapman give up the game tying home run on Sunday, but he walked two batters in the tenth inning. That set up the situation where Tommy Kahnle gave up the game winning run later in the inning.

Even though there have only been three blown saves by Aroldis Chapman since his DL stint, his walks and ineffectiveness have taxed him. Friday’s game against the Boston Red Sox almost got away from him. He walked the bases loaded, but only gave up one run (thanks to Aaron Hicks and a poor decision by Eduardo Nunez). If it was not for the insurance run that the Yankees tacked on in the bottom of the eighth, that save would have been blown as well. As a closer, part of Chapman’s job is to shut down the drama to seal the game. In recent games, it has been heartache to watch him work.

Injury?

Other than hobbling on the final out Tuesday night, there is no sign that Aroldis Chapman is injured. With the increased wildness over the past two weeks, there is a feeling that Chapman might have an injury to arm (or hamstring after Tuesday). Chapman denied any injury after Tuesday, stating that his hamstring “Tightened up a little bit, but it is nothing to worry about.” Manager Joe Girardi supported that claim, saying, “We think that his leg is not going to be an issue” after the Yankees’ win against the New York Mets on Wednesday. If those two are to believed, then Chapman is not injured.

There is evidence to support these claims, though. The home run that Chapman gave up to Devers was clocked at 103 MPH, which would imply a healthy arm. His average velocity for the season sits at 100 MPH. While that is down .4 MPH from last season, it is his third highest average velocity over his eight-year career. While it is a true a pitcher can adjust their mechanics to compensate for an injury, but there would be a drop in velocity on a consistent level. Touching 103 is not the best indication, but the average of 100 MPH is a better one.

The Notion That Aroldis Chapman Only Has One Pitch

Aroldis Chapman relies heavily on his fastball. To be fair, if you threw over 100 MPH consistently, you would too as a reliever. However, there are some who believe that Chapman only has one pitch. That is not the case though. Actually, Chapman’s slider is solid when he throws it well. It has a sharp break and very effective against both left and right-handed hitters. The issue is that Chapman does not control it as well as his fastball. Unlike Dellin Betances (who turns to his slurve when his fastball gets wild), Chapman’s slider is definitely secondary. When the fastball is being hard to control, it is possible that he does not trust himself to locate the slider.

Location is Key

As a pitcher, you are taught that locating your pitches is the most important thing that you can do. Especially with the fastball, a well-located fastball is often the key to the success of most MLB pitchers. Greg Maddux chose to locate better than to throw as hard as he could. Well, when a pitcher can touch 105 MPH, location becomes slightly less important, especially for a one-inning reliever. However, as my former high school coach used to say, with time, a hitter could time up a bullet. After eight seasons in the MLB, Chapman’s fastball is no longer a surprise for how hard it is. Plus, there are more 100 MPH pitchers in the big leagues this season than ever before.

Chapman is not getting bit simply because hitters are timing up his fastball. Chapman is not throwing the ball low in the zone. The easiest place for a hitter to hit a fastball is up and away. That allows the hitter more time to see and react to the pitch. Devers’ home run on Sunday was on a pitch that was high and away. All Devers had to do at that point was to flick his hands at the ball and the velocity did the rest. It is still a difficult pitch to hit, but it is made easier when Chapman is not locating with any consistency.

Time to Mentally Lock In

Though bad mechanics can be the cause for poor location, the ability to locate the fastball comes down to the right mental approach. A bad mental approach can cause a poor mechanical pitch on a single pitch. Think of it this way: a pitcher who spots up in the bullpen on every pitch leaves a ball over the middle of the plate when trying to pitch inside. The fear of missing that inside pitch causes the front shoulder to leak, drops the arm, and puts the fastball exactly where the pitcher did not want to throw it. While Chapman is not a pitcher who spots up in the bullpen, locating the fastball is still mental.

Perhaps Aroldis Chapman’s confidence is shaken. A mental break for The Missile could do wonders for his mental capacity right now. The Yankees have enough bullpen depth where Chapman can take a few games off to get his mind straight. David Robertson closed the game on Wednesday night and Betances got the save on Monday. If Chapman needs it, then the Yankees should give him a short break.

Griffin Fuller
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Griffin Fuller

Former Division 1 pitcher at Stetson University with an immense passion for the game of baseball. Grew up playing baseball from the age of 3. Student of the game of baseball in every aspect.Located out of Debary, Florida.
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Griffin Fuller
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