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.