On Friday night, the Yankees won arguably the best games of the season. An eighth inning rally propelled the Bombers over the Red Sox. After the Boston pitching staff shut down the offense for most of the game, this outbreak was just what the doctor ordered. That rally made Yankees fans feel pretty darn good about their team.
Conversely, the next inning likely drove fans to utter frustration. After working so hard to take the lead, the Yankees nearly threw it away. Closer Aroldis Chapman had none of his pitches working. With a total breakdown in control, Chapman walked the bases loaded before retiring a single batter.
The chart says it all. Most of Chapman’s pitches ended up outside of the zone. He ultimately escaped the inning with the save, but should he have? Many wondered why Chapman was left in the game with Dellin Betances seemingly ready to go. Despite his inability to throw strikes, no pitching change was made.
“You still feel pretty good about him [Chapman] because he is a strikeout guy,” Joe Girardi told reporters after the game. “I felt good about his strikeout potential. He’s really good at what he does.”
Girardi’s gamble ultimately paid off. The Yankees won a big game. That said, with the team’s deep bullpen, it shouldn’t have come down to that. It became abundantly clear that Chapman was not the best option to clean up his mess. Any of the three other end-game options should have taken over.
Why is it necessary to relitigate the ninth inning of a big victory? That’s because every game from here on out is close to a must-win. At the very least, every series is. With the division race on the line, the Yankees have to fight for any advantage they can muster. The Red Sox are too good to let slip away. If Boston makes a break for it, the Bombers will have an awfully difficult time reeling them in. In that situation, it’s possible that the Yankees could run out of real estate down the stretch.
Brian Cashman and company acknowledged the team’s willingness to make a run at the AL East at the trade deadline. Part of that included the buttressing of the bullpen. The Yankees added David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle to the fold on July 19th. Since then, Chapman’s been one of the team’s lesser alternatives.
Yankees Relief Aces Since July 19th
Chapman lags behind his counterparts in nearly every metric. It’s particularly shocking to see his strikeout rate rank the lowest. His ERA and numbers rates aren’t far off, either. It’s fair to say that Girardi has better options available in the ninth inning.
Some have pointed to Chapman’s inconsistent workload to explain his struggles on Friday night. Even the Yankees manager subscribed to this theory. “He was probably a little rusty, sending him out there,” Girardi indicated. “He hadn’t thrown in [six] days.” While that probably had something to do with it, Chapman hasn’t been especially effective all season. He owns 3.06 ERA (1.93 FIP) on the year. He’s hardly been the dominant closer the Yankees expected when they signed him in December.
The causes of Chapman’s struggles are secondary to the results now. It’s clear he’s not the team’s best reliever. He shouldn’t be treated as such. It’s not April anymore; time is running out for the Yankees to make a push for the division. While it’s doubtful that Girardi will drop the closer from his role, he should seriously consider it. Chapman escaped danger on Friday, but the team can’t keep pressing its luck.