Ode to a Pitcher: Aroldis Chapman battles Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

Last Sunday, Aroldis Chapman faced Vladimir Guerrero Jr. for the first time.

The young phenom, the son of a Hall of Famer, beginning to prove himself after loads of hype.

The legendary closer, an incredible strikeout machine, still punching out hitters after years of dominance.

On Sunday afternoon in Toronto, the New York Yankees sent Masahiro Tanaka back out to the mound in the ninth inning. Tanaka, his best self that day, was looking to preserve a shutout and the Yanks were looking to claim another win.

But, as happens, the ninth didn’t open favorably, and after a single out came manager Aaron Boone to pull his nominal ace. Out goes Tanaka and in jogs closer Aroldis Chapman. And how did Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo respond?

By pinch-hitting with one of his young prodigies — read that sentence again; the Blue Jays are going to be such a pain in the ass someday — in a critical part of the game. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., the dreadlocked mashing machine who arrived earlier this year with much hype. On this very site, I lambasted Toronto for not freeing Baby Vlad sooner (it’s worked out well for the Padres and Fernando Tatis Jr., eh?), but now he’s here.

The young slugger, still only 20 years old, hasn’t lit the American League on fire as a rookie — .345 xwOBA and a 112 OPS+ are fine, not revolutionary — but he’s shown the spark of a potential MVP. Since July 1, he’s looked more and more the part, especially considering his age, hitting .302/.374/.511.

Meanwhile, Chapman is Chapman, even as his velocity slowly drops. Slowly. His fastball velocity is still in the 99th percentile, as is the spin on that heater. Hmm. Maybe it’s more like the desert has just a bit less sand? Something like that. Even as he turns more to the slider — .224 xwOBA, 41.4 percent whiff rate — the results stay the same. Chapman is awesome.

The table was set. The firebreathing Yankees closer against the Blue Jays phenom. One run lead. Here we go.

Continue reading Ode to a Pitcher: Aroldis Chapman battles Vladimir Guerrero Jr.


Ode to a Pitcher: With the velocity still strong, Aroldis Chapman finds his slider

Image result for aroldis chapman

Aroldis Chapman throws the baseball very hard. At his hardest, maybe no ever has thrown one harder. Now, as mileage and innings take their toll, he doesn’t throw quite as hard, but make no mistake, he’s still a flamethrower.

It’s become a bit of a topic de jour for the YES Network to mention Chapman’s declining velocity. It’s true. He doesn’t throw as hard as a 31-year-old as he did as a youngster, especially in Cincinnati. I don’t mean to pick on the broadcast team — hey, you gotta fill time — but Chapman’s velocity is hardly a cause for major concern. Among qualified relievers, his average fastball velocity is fourth-best.

Ah, heavy is the head that wears the crown.

The thing is, Chapman does seem aware that he’s lost just a bit of velocity, and that’s where this story picks up steam. Because he perhaps doesn’t feel as safe just blitzing every opposing batter with heat, he’s turned to his slider more and more the last two seasons. It was always at least a tantalizing pitch, but as we’ll see in the breakdown, when he is commanding the zone with the slider, he remains as lethal as ever.

Consider Fangraphs’ pVal metric. It tells us that for the last two seasons, Chapman’s most valuable pitch has been the breaking ball, not the well-known heater. The fastball remains quite a handful — and when Chapman is on his sequencing game, probably lifts the slider. The combination of the two, mixed around the zone with confidence and command, have kept Chapman among the game’s elite relievers even as age tries to draw its fee.

Chapman closed out the 2019 All-Star Game with epic flair. Let’s take a look.

Continue reading Ode to a Pitcher: With the velocity still strong, Aroldis Chapman finds his slider