This is the Aroldis Chapman the Yankees believed was worth $86 million.
When the Yankees made Chapman the highest paid closer in the game before the 2017 season, they did so believing the then 29-year-old would be able to stay on top of his game long enough to warrant a five-year deal. The question was always, could Chapman maintain his extreme velocity throughout the term of the deal?
As such, I questioned before last season began if Chapman didn't have to figure out a way to mix in off-speed pitches more often in an effort to lengthen his career. He wasn't of the mindset in the beginning of the 2017 season, but as the year wore on, he began to utilize what is a very good slider when he has the feel for it.
After a rough start last season, which included a stint on the disabled list, Chapman finished the campaign with a 3.22 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 3.6 BB/9 and 12.3 K/9. Chapman's last 11 regular season appearances and his performance in the postseason resembled more of the pitcher he had been in the past.
As we check in on the 2018 season, Chapman has flashed the electric fastball and he's buckling plenty of knees with a slider. The fastball is not only reaching 100+ mph more regularly in recent appearances, but the movement on the pitch has been an added bonus. Meanwhile, Chapman's slider is simply filthy and hard to adjust to when played off consecutive fastballs.
Case in point: Chapman made Xander Bogaerts look silly in the ninth inning of Wednesday night's game when he followed five successive 100+ mph fastballs with only a good slider that was left up in the hitting zone. The speed differential alone made the slider effective.
In Chapman's 17 appearances (17 innings) this season, he's pitching to a 1.59 ERA, 0.82 WHIP, .148 BAA, and he's walking 2.6 batters per nine innings. The amazing stat, and one that should be exhilarating for Yankees' brass, is the 34 strikeouts (18.0 K/9).
Chapman's pitch values (according to Baseball Info Solutions, via FanGraphs) are very favorable in the early stages of the season. His average fastball is 99 mph (and steadily increasing), while possessing a value of 3.5 (zero being average). As for Chapman's slider, which averages a speed of 85.9 mph, it is registering 2.0 points of value. Chapman's slider usage has increased to 27.3 percent this season, from 19.7 in 2017.
According to BIS, Chapman has abandoned the changeup this season.
Finally -- and for Chapman this is essential -- he's confident in the game plan. The aura of a closer needs to be one that demonstrates to the opponent that there is no fear, no hesitancy, and even drips of arrogance.
When Chapman steps to the mound, he exudes a feeling that he won't be beaten. This was missing from many of his appearances last season. Potentially, Chapman's health or a desire to prove his worth after signing the mega-deal was in play.
For me, it was a combination of those factors and the ability to understand that his velocity was not enough on its own any longer. Pairing a fastball that hasn't lost a beat with a well-timed, nasty slider has made Chapman into a hard-throwing pitcher.
Not just a flame-thrower.