Has another Cuban Missile Crisis taken hold?
First of all, a disclaimer. No one here is saying Aroldis Chapman has hit rock bottom, or that there is any question as to who the best closer in baseball is this season. Number 54 of the Reds has been excellent on the mound, and for some time, unhittable.
Because of this dominance, any miscue at all raises red flags across the country, and not the Cincinnati car-flags that fans attach to their windows. No, being perfect comes with a price, and that price is having your imperfections, when they finally surface, magnified in utter disbelief.
With that said, Chapman’s last two appearances have been disasters. On Friday, he recorded a blown save off a Matt Dominguez three-run homer, a shocking loss to the worst team in baseball. Yesterday, he threw for two thirds of an inning before being pulled after loading the bases with walks. His earned run average reached 1.61 after Friday’s fiasco, a number most closers would love. For Chapman though, that number is his highest since July 20 and replaced his 1.23 ERA going into the game.
Many people have pointed to Chapman’s velocity as the problem. Dave Schoenfield of ESPN has reported that over his last three appearances, it truly has declined. Chapman, known for posting triple digit speeds, threw an average fastball speed of 98.0 mph on Sept. 4, 96.3 mph on Sept. 7, and 94.4 mph yesterday, according to Schoenfield.
“He might be a little tired. He might have to rest for awhile,” Dusty Baker said yesterday following Chapman’s disappointing performance.
On nine occasions this year, Chapman relied solely on his fastball, some games averaging 100.0 to 101.3 mph. Lately, however, and not to discredit the value of mixing it up, Chapman has significantly raised his implementation of the slider. A usually effective pitch, Chapman threw his slider 21.7% of his pitches during his blown save on Friday.
What does this mean? Is Chapman, who was supposed to be a starter at the start of the year, reaching a point of late-season fatigue? Is there a mechanical breakdown erasing those crucial few miles per hour that can be a difference between the catcher’s mitt and the hands of a lucky fan in left field?
In this analyst’s opinion, Chapman is simply starting to wear down. Repetitive use does that to a player. Yes, many starters grow stronger as the year progresses, but Chapman is a closer who makes an appearance almost every other day, throwing high nineties to low hundreds on a consistent basis. The body, and the arm in particular, naturally needs rest.
The largest question is what to do about the Cuban Missile to best preserve him for the postseason. The odds of the Reds losing the division are currently at .05%, so coasting from here on out is acceptable if the goal is to make the playoffs. To succeed in October, though, Chapman must play a critical role in the Cincinnati bullpen. That means having him at 100%, pitching at or close to 100 mph.
For at least a week, I say rest the man. Maybe give him some bullpen work to keep him sharp, but give the arm a break. Cincinnati signed Jonathan Broxton before the trade deadline, a very capable closer who can produce when called upon. Let Broxton carry the majority of the workload for now, and then slide back into the setup role towards the end of the year.
This is not a Cuban Missile Crisis, Cincinnati. The missile just simply needs to cool his jets before he’s ready to fire again.