Is something wrong with Aroldis Chapman?

When you throw last night’s spectacular blown save on the pile of other recent lackluster performances by the Reds closer, it’s a legitimate question.

Chapman has given up at least one run in five of his last 11 appearances. Last season, he gave up a total of 21 hits. This season, Chapman has already given up 20. He threw a total of 6 wild pitches and HBP last year. He already has 5 this year. Chapman has walked 8 batters in his last 6 appearances. In terms of clean innings — no hits or walks — last season, Chapman, who was coming off the DL from being hit in the head by a line drive, started the year with four non-clean appearances. After that, only once more in his remaining 50 trips to the mound did the Reds reliever have back-to-back games where he didn’t retire the side in order. This year, it has now been eight appearances since he’s put together a 1-2-3 inning.

That’s the whiff of smoke. Let’s investigate further and see if it’s coming from a burning fire or just a smoldering GABP smokestack.

First, we have to acknowledge that it’s unreasonable to expect Chapman to duplicate his 2014 performance, which ranks as one of the greatest seasons for a relief pitcher in the history of baseball. Reminder: Chapman struck out 52.5 percent of the batters he faced last season. That rate was a historic best ever. He dominated left-handed (.128/.214/.158) and right-handed (.117/.239/.176) hitters alike. Chapman went an entire month without giving up a line drive. He threw his change up 73 times and only one time did a batter put it in play (for an out).

When a player has a year like Aroldis Chapman in 2014, we fans are tempted to expect it becomes the new normal. Instead, what we witnessed was a career year. Reality: The odds were heavily against Aroldis Chapman repeating that performance. And it should be no surprise that he hasn’t.

Strikeouts/Walks Chapman’s strikeout rate has fallen to 35.5 percent, his lowest since 2011. But that’s still sixth best for all relievers. Chapman’s walk-rate (14 percent) is its highest since 2011. His swinging-strike rate (SwStr%) is down from last year, but still the best in the majors. Chapman’s ERA-estimators remain strong (FIP 2.60; SIERA 2.84) despite being personal worsts since 2011.

Fastball velocity Chapman’s average fastball velocity has dropped from 100.2 in 2014 (a record) to 99.4 mph. That’s still the best in baseball by more than one mph. And Chapman averaged 101.2 in the month of May.

Batted Ball Profile Chapman’s batting average against (.222) is the highest of his career, but fueled by a BABIP of .373. Chapman’s career BABIP is .280. There’s nothing about his 2015 batted-ball profile or his rate of giving up hard-hit balls to indicate we should expect his BABIP to increase. In fact, Chapman has given up a lower percentage of line drives and hard-hit balls compared to last year.

Returning to our initial question: Is something wrong with Aroldis Chapman?

Yes. He’s mortal.

Aroldis Chapman’s strikeouts have always dazzled beyond reason — baseball’s version of crack addiction. The fact is, he’s been above average, but not stellar when it comes to save conversions. And while the save statistic has issues, that’s how Chapman should ultimately be measured, since that’s the role he’s been given by Bryan Price and the Reds front office. Blowing the save last night is nothing more than just that. One out of ten. That’s a bit above-average.

Based on the data, Aroldis Chapman in 2015 is a pitcher who has taken a tumble from his other-worldly career year of 2014. He’s now merely one of the top relievers in the game – one who happens to be in a slump with his control and in a bit of bad luck on balls hit in play.

The actual Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962 lasted 13 days. Chapman’s rough stretch has been 13 games, dating back to walking the bases loaded against Pittsburgh on May 5. While there’s certainly reason to keep an eye on his numbers, we aren’t yet in the midst of a modern-day missile scare.

15 Responses

  1. Ed Denny

    Great column. Some of the newer sabermetrics are still a bit over my head. In this case they really help put my mind to rest as it concerns Chapman. We’ve got more than enough other things to worry about with this year’s edition of the Reds.

  2. DavidTurner49

    Thanks for putting things in perspective Steve. Is there anything statistically to confirm the comment I’m hearing that Chapman has issues when he inherits runners and is much better when he comes in at the beginning of an inning?

  3. seat101

    Let them be some other teams problem/superstar. I am so over this guy. He’s such a waste as a reliever. Trade him now, before the All-Star break get as much as we can.

    • Michael E

      Dusty made him a closer when others got injured…it was not Chapman choosing at that time (he was basically a rookie). He did sort of choose two years later when reporters asked and he stated he preferred closing and didn’t want to be a starter.

      Had Dusty Baker not completely mangled the handling of Chapman, we’d probably have an Ace LH starter on our hands. A 1-2 punch with Cueto. So sad.

      Best I can tell, some managers (especially Dusty) put more importance on a closer than they do on SP1, SP2, SP3, SP4 and SP5. For me, the rotation comes first and my best arms that can handle starting (Chapman was already handling it in Spring Training) are in the rotation. I find what I need for relievers and if I don’t have but three good relievers and three bad ones, the three good ones pitch in tight games or late, while the other three pitch in mop up or when we’re up by 7 runs. The better three get twice the innings than the worse three.

      and I would NOT have a closer… I would not bow down to agents or stupid convention. I would keep all my relievers happy and on their toes by giving each shots at various situations. Nothing more boring than having one silly defined role and nothing to excite a player. This is a sport, not brain surgery.

  4. kmartin

    Do you have data on the percentage of times Chapman gets a strikeout when he has two strikes on a batter? My sense is that he is not putting away batters as much as he has in the past when he has two strikes on them.

  5. Gregg Lestina

    I think part of the problem is that he doesn’t throw anything but his fastball. His slider should be making hitters miserable as they gear up for his fastball, but he almost never throws it.

    • Michael E

      and a changeup low would completely baffle hitters…if he only had a decent changeup and confidence in the slider.

      Also, I noticed he gets hit harder when he is down in the zone. He needs to keep blistering fastballs between the belly buttons and shoulders.

  6. Dr. K

    There were a couple of times last night, where it did not look as though Chapman was looking at home plate until he was well into his delivery. I’m not a pitching coach by any stretch, but have not noticed before such a profound delay in locking in on the target from him.

  7. Vanessa Galagnara

    The crisis is he plays for the Reds. He probably has lost motivation while waiting to wear pin stripes or Dodger Blue.

    • ManuelT

      Yes, I agree it’s not health that is the problem but his level of motivation.

  8. Michael E

    and lets also hope Walt and Bob don’t cynically value every trade piece like some Reds fans I see on these boards. “Cueto is just a rental, can’t get anything for him”. I mean, they’re are some seriously stupid people that would be terrible GMs on these pages.

  9. VaRedsFan

    Is it possible he’s missing his naps since Latos outed him?

    Nothing to see here…a minor glitch for one of the best closers in baseball

  10. dradg

    I agree that there’s nothing to be alarmed about – Chapman is mortal, in fact.

    However, I’ve often wondered whether Aroldis’s stats are inflated by the fact that he typically faces the bottom of the order (at least to my recollection), where batter are more likely to be overmatched.