Aroldis Chapman is the hardest throwing closer in the game and one of the few must-see Yankees. That's all well and good, but will Chapman be able to push the Yankees into playoff contention behind his 100+ mph fastballs?
How did Chapman fare in 2016?
Chapman missed the first month of the 2016 season due to his suspension from violating the league's domestic abuse policy. The incident rightly followed Chapman during his three months with the club, and will surely stick with him for the rest of his life. It's on Chapman to change how he is viewed in the future because he cannot erase the past. Some fans simply do not want any part of Chapman, while others have decided to accept him as a person they believe deserves a second chance.
On the field, Chapman was electric as ever, maintaining a career-high 100.4 mph average speed on his fastball (close to 800 fastballs thrown). In 31 appearances (31 1/3 innings) with the Yankees, Chapman registered a 2.01 ERA, 0.89 WHIP and 12.6 strikeouts per nine innings. In 21 opportunities, Chapman saved 20 games.
As good as Chapman was for the Yankees as their closer, his greatest contribution might have been the haul the club nabbed in the trade that sent the left-hander to the Chicago Cubs. The Yankees thrust their farm system into the discussion of the best in the game after adding Gleyber Torres (MLB Pipeline's No. 3 prospect) to it.
Chapman pitched even better over the rest of the regular season for the Cubs, saving 16 games (18 chances) with a 1.01 ERA, 0.83 WHIP and a 15.5 K/9 across 28 appearances (26 2/3 innings). Then, Chapman saved four games in the postseason, helping the Cubs win the World Series. The efforts helped land Chapman a five-year, $86 million contract.
How will Chapman fare in 2017?
Chapman is entering his age-29 season, which leaves me little reason to believe he is not physically capable of unleashing hundreds of 100+ mph fastballs in 2017. As such, the stats we expect to see should be there. Chapman's value will have more to do with how often and in what capacity he is used.
One shortcoming with Chapman is the inability bank on his production when used for extended outings. Chapman comes out blazing and if he is not on his game, his pitch count climbs quickly and it certainly affects him at the moment and the next day. This becomes a problem if Chapman is asked to nail down a four-out save. Additionally, the idea of using him for a third straight day is more or less out of the question during the regular season.
In my view, Yankees manager Joe Girardi will be wise to keep Chapman limited to as many clean ninth-inning opportunities as possible. Chapman is mentally tuned-in best to those situations and his performance is better under those circumstances. The Yankees have the luxury of having Dellin Betances available to pick up any slack if the club finds itself in need of a lockdown reliever on a third straight day.
We witnessed various appearances in which Chapman did not have his best fastball, making him wild and hittable. In my view, Chapman needs to begin increasing the mix of his ancillary offerings now in an effort to extend the number of years he can hit 100 mph on his fastball and so that the fastball becomes that much more difficult to hit. Chapman has a good to above-average slider and what can be a plus changeup with work. It will be interesting to see if Chapman begins to gradually limit the number of fireballs he tosses as he progresses through this five-year contract.
The Yankees signed Chapman to his lucrative deal because they feel that they minimally have a ticket-seller for three prime seasons before he can opt out or his full no-trade clause expires. If the Yankees begin to round into contention in the next couple of seasons, then they have one of the best closers in the game at their disposal.
However, in order for the Yankees to get the most out of their flame thrower, they need to work with him on improving his ancillary pitches and how to mix them with the fastball. Further, the Yankees must control his appearances in an effort to allow him to maintain the power to throw 100 mph fastballs through the contract term.
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