"Remove Aroldis Chapman as the Yankees' closer" is the latest cry from the team's fans and even some in the media after the flame thrower allowed a game-tying homer in the ninth inning and then put the go-ahead run on base in the 10th inning of Sunday night's loss to the Red Sox.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi can be overly stringent in his bullpen usage, consistently turning to the same formula day in and day out. The writing on the wall should tell the skipper that a change could do the Yankees some good, especially when Girardi can turn to an established closer now on the roster. If administered a truth serum, Girardi might very well feel the same way as those clamoring for a change.
Except, it's not that simple. Consider these factors.
Chapman's stuff is better now than any point this season
Girardi pointed out in Sunday's postgame press conference and rightfully so, that Chapman's stuff, especially in the ninth inning was quite good. This might be the biggest sticking point for Girardi's stubbornness.
Chapman came out for the first time in a long time and looked like Aroldis Chapman. He made Hanley Ramirez look ridiculous with max heat registering a strikeout on three straight pitches that hit 101, 102 and 103-mph in succession.
Then Chapman worked 20-year-old rookie Rafael Devers into a solid 1-2 count. The type of pitch Chapman delivered can be debated (maybe a slider in the dirt would have been better), but dialing up a 103-mph fastball in the top portion of the strike zone is not a ball one expects to be delivered over the fence. Sometimes, we simply have to tip the cap to the opposition.
Chapman cannot deliver more than three outs
This is not optimal for today's relievers - whether closing or pitching elsewhere in the game - but it's obvious that Chapman is much more comfortable when he is not pushed into "extra" work. Closing is as much of a mindset as anything else and it's readily apparent that Chapman simply views himself as a ninth-inning reliever who comes out with one job, get the three guys ahead of him in this inning. Girardi can look at the history - as recent as Sunday - to see that expecting excess from Chapman is not a viable solution.
Chapman is no fireman
To many it seems the Yankees can easily shift Chapman into lower leverage situations in earlier innings of the game. This is done across the league when closers enter rough waters with the intention of rejuvenating the reliever and boosting his confidence.
The potential issue in doing this with Chapman is the Yankees need someone in those periods of time that can handle fireman type roles. Yankees rotation members have been unable to provide length of late and it will continue to fall on the relievers as the club plays in close games on a regular basis.
Relief situations more often than not include coming in with runners in scoring position. It's difficult to assume that Chapman can be brought into "clean" innings each time he appears and sadly that's when he is at his "best."
Inherent abilities from Yankees' relievers inhibit Girardi's desire to change
The knock on Girardi is his unwillingness at times to see that change is necessary. He tends to coddle veterans to the point of detriment to the club. The items described above could be weighing on Girardi's mind as well as this one.
High leverage situations in the sixth and seventh innings for example, can be as important as those in the ninth inning. The Yankees are continuously playing close games, so the pressure in relation to getting a win is no different.
Girardi might simply feel that the other reliever Yankees fans want in the ninth - David Robertson seems to be the popular choice - is better suited to come out in tough situations and be able to extend himself if necessary. Add Dellin Betances' strengths (better in clean innings, not as a closer) and Tommy Kahnle's experience (not quite ready for eighth and ninth inning duties) and the ease of moving Chapman around is not as clear-cut.
Should this be a factor? Maybe if Chapman's five-year, $86 million contract was coming to an end, but it's just beginning. While Girardi may surprise us and turn to Robertson or a committee of sorts (which sounds completely outlandish considering Girardi's need for structure), expecting it to last long is unlikely.
Further, the Chapman deal had ownership involvement written all over it and when that happens, do you truly believe the manager feels he has much choice but to play the star? This might not be George Steinbrenner's team, but to believe this is a hands-off ownership and executive group above general manager Brian Cashman is foolish. Again, this is not a 40-year-old Alex Rodriguez or a years-in-decline Jacoby Ellsbury, it's a 29-year-old who fires 103-mph fastballs at the front end of his deal.
The way I see it, the object will be to get Chapman straight without ruffling feathers in the organization.
What's the answer?
I wrote at length last week that Girardi can and should consider utilizing his endgame reliever depth to his advantage. By setting up a cycle of sorts with the six plus-relievers at his disposal, Girardi could essentially have two sets of three/four-inning compilations with Chapman and Robertson used as the closer when the game situation presented plays to their particular strengths and the opponent's weaknesses.
This could be a way for Girardi to not remove Chapman from the role, but rather to utilize him in conjunction with another experienced closer, who may fit a certain situation better. This would also provide Girardi a chance to keep the relievers as fresh as possible, which is a serious issue considering the rotation's inability to push through the seventh inning.
Chapman is probably not going to lose the closer's role for an extended period. But, it's surely up to Girardi to figure out how to maximize the potential Chapman and the rest of the relief crew embodies as they try to maintain a tenuous hold on a postseason spot.
Change is not always as simple as it seems.