2020 Season Preview: Aroldis Chapman
Every day, Start Spreading the News will be previewing a Yankee every day at 4:00 PM. We began our series on Monday with a look at Gary Sanchez and continued yesterday with Miguel Andujar.
Today we will be looking at the Yankees flamethrower from the bullpen: Aroldis Chapman.
Overview of his Yankee Career:
First coming to the Yankees in a December 2015 trade from the Cincinnati Reds for a group of four prospects,- including 3B Eric Jagleio, RHP Rookie Davis, 2B Tony Renda, and RHP Caleb Cotham- Chapman only saw action in 31 games with the Yankees that season, but combined with Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances to form a dominant bullpen that earned the moniker “No Runs DMC”. However, the band would only be together for so long as the 2016 Trade Deadline, Chapman was sent to the Chicago Cubs for a group of 4 players including RHP Adam Warren, 2B/SS Gleyber Torres, and OF’ers Billy McKinney and Rashad Crawford. Chapman helped bring the Chicago Cubs to their first World Series win since 1908 that season, and then signed a contract to come back to the New York Yankees that offseason on a 5-year, $86 million deal.
Ever since, Chapman has been the closer for the Yankees, solidifying one of the most dominant bullpens year-in and year-out as he has combined with the likes of Dellin Betances, Chad Green, David Robertson, and Tommy Kahnle, among others.
Going into the 2020 offseason, Aroldis Chapman did have the ability to opt-out of his remaining 2-Year/$20 million contract with the Yankees, but did come to a quick resolve as the team and his agents agreed on extending his contract another year and for an additional $18 million. This means that Aroldis Chapman will be with the Yankees through 2022 for $48 million total over the next three seasons.
In his career, Aroldis Chapman has been relatively healthy which would surprise many given his ability to send out 98-101 MPH fastballs consistently throughout his career. With the Yankees, he has ended up on the injured list only twice.
In 2017, Chapman was sidelined due to left shoulder rotator cuff inflammation, which kept him out from May 13th to June 18th.
In 2018, Chapman was sidelined due to left knee tendinitis, which kept him out from August 22nd to September 19th.
Before coming to the Yankees, Chapman did have one surgery, but one that would not have much of an effect on his ability to pitch after getting hit in the face on a come-backer off the bat of catcher Salvador Perez in Spring Training in 2015. (Video here.) This kept him out from March 21st to May 10th and then he took another 2 games off (June 23rd to 25th) for paternity.
The Numbers (2019):
In 2019, Aroldis Chapman had his 5th best season in his career by ERA+ (202), which was considerably above his career average of a 184 ERA+. This was largely in part to his changing of main repertoire outside of his dominant fastball, by in effect, ditching the changeup (0.8% in 2018 to 0.1% in 2019, with a career high of 7.7% in 2015) and starting to use both his sinker (7.9% to 10%, of which he debuted in 2018) and his slider (25.4% to 31.1%, of which was a career high usage in 2019). See the chart below to see his pitch progression since 2010:
AROLDIS CHAPMAN PITCH% BY YEAR, COURTESY OF BASEBALL SAVANT & MLB.COM
This new pitch selection also helped Chapman continue to stay a dominant relief pitcher in 2019, even as his fastball speed has begun to slowly drift after nearly a decade of throwing upwards of 100 MPH consistently. Even so, Chapman still kept his average fastball velocity at 98 MPH, which does have some people concerned- especially given how 2020 is set to be his age 32 season- but he touts that along with a slider at 85.2 MPH, a rarely-used changeup at 88.1 MPH, and his new top-of-the-line 100.2 MPH average sinker.
Looking at the advanced metrics in 2019, Chapman had a fantastic Hard Hit % of 29.3% (Top 6% in the MLB) and a top Exit Velocity of 85.9 MPH (Top 8% in the MLB). Combine this along with Top-6% finishes or above in XBA (.196), XSLG (.283), WOBA (.242), and XWOBA (.260), you get the makings of a tremendous pitcher.
Unfortunately, Chapman did drop a few percentage points in his K%- from 43.9% in 2018 to 36.2% in 2019- in a season that featured the most of amount of total strikeouts, which is also below his career average of 39.2%. Yet, he did fix a bottom 2% BB%- from 14.2% in 2018 to 10.6% in 2019.
When looking more at the traditional statistics, these advanced metrics show when it comes to his great 2.21 ERA and 2.28 FIP, solid 1.105 WHIP, the aforementioned fantastic 202 ERA+, a much better 3.9 BB/9, with a 13.4 K/9. This also netted Chapman 37 saves over 60 games pitched and 57.0 innings of work, in addition only blowing 5 saves (of which the Yankees still won 4 of those games).
I highly recommend checking out Aroldis Chapman’s Baseball Savant page, which you can find here.
AROLDIS CHAPMAN 2019 MLB RANKINGS, COURTESY OF BASEBALL SAVANT: MLB.COM
The Projections (2020):
Given how good he was in 2019, what have the numbers been looking like for Aroldis Chapman as we head into the 2020 season? Let’s take a look:
AROLDIS CHAPMAN 2020 PROJECTIONS, COURTESY OF BASEBALLREFERENCE.COM
AROLDIS CHAPMAN 2020 PROJECTIONS, COURTESY OF FANGRAPHS.COM
It seems as though Baseball Reference (BR) does expect a tremendous shift to Chapman’s ERA going into 2020, which a shift that would end up as his highest since 2011 (3.60 ERA), yet the other projecting systems from Fangraphs seem to keep him in-line with a slight increase towards around the 2.81 ERA mark, which is still a considerable increase from his career average of 2.23.
Again, following this trend comes a considerable increase to Chapman’s WHIP according to BR’s projection system, moving him up to a 1.203 which is also considerably higher than his career average of 1.023. Repeat this negative outlook with a decrease in his K/9 (seen as SO/9) to 11.7 (from an already low 13.4) and substantial increase to both H/9 (to 7.0 from 6.0) and HR/9 (to 0.9 from 0.5).
It seems to be that Baseball Reference truly expects this to be the beginning of Chapman’s “falling off a cliff”, yet does still only hold a 53% reliability rating, which factors in a 47% regression towards the mean (which would be unheard of, barring major injury or set-back).
Luckily, Fangraphs keeps Chapman going strong through his age-32 season, as a look towards his more advanced metrics show a better pitcture:
AROLDIS CHAPMAN 2020 PROJECTIONS, COURTESY OF FANGRAPHS.COM
For the most part, Fangraphs rankings have Chapman producing numbers that are reasonably close to his 2019 performance in terms of K/9 (13.46) and BB/9 (4.006), yet does consider a bump to HR/9 (0.898) to be expected. Outside of that bump, the other projected numbers still show a closer that I would be happy to see on the mound.
Aroldis Chapman went through a major change to his game over the past two seasons in 2018 and 2019 as he added in a formidable sinker to his pitching repertoire that has helped to keep him standing as one of the top relievers in the MLB.
This showed drastically in his numbers as they increased over the past few seasons, when it would be expected that a flamethrowing pitcher might start to tail off, especially given the wear-and-tear on his arm from being notable for having a consistency with a fastball above 100 MPH.
That doesn’t mean a drop-off shouldn’t be expected, and as many projection systems show, 2020 may the beginning of his drop-off, it will just be a matter of time until we see how big of a drop that is and/or how long Chapman can hold it off.
All that being said, looking at the numbers, I’m still confident in Chapman being the Yankees closer for the 2020 season, especially given the depth of other premier bullpen arms that the Yankees have around him being Zack Britton, Adam Ottavino, Tommy Kahnle, and Chad Green, among others.