Aroldis Chapman’s legacy as a member of the New York Yankees is going to be complicated, to say the least. Originally acquired via trade in the 2015-2016 offseason, Chapman began the season serving a 30-game suspension for violating the league’s Joint Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse policy — the whole reason that Brian Cashman was able to acquire him so cheaply. When the 2016 Yankees were heading nowhere fast, Cashman flipped him to the Chicago Cubs for a prospect package headlined by Gleyber Torres, then re-signed him to a record-breaking five-year, $86 million contract when he hit free agency that winter.
When you look purely at the numbers, Chapman was a lockdown reliever for most of his Yankees tenure, going to three All-Star Games (2018, 2019, 2021) and winning the 2019 Mariano Rivera Reliever of the Year Award. And yet, he never inspired confidence when he was on the mound, was prone to losing the strike zone at the most inopportune times, and, in back-to-back years, gave up backbreaking home runs that ended the season.
And then came 2022.
2022 Statistics: 43 games, 36.1 IP, 4.46 ERA, 4.57 FIP, 10.7 K/9, 6.9BB/9, -0.2 fWAR, -0.2 bWAR
2023 Contract Status: Free Agent
As much as people may fantasize that all their teachers are Denzel Crocker, giddy with joy to hand out failing grades to torture unsuspecting students, I can tell you from experience that there’s nothing a teacher hates more. Typically, Fs represent more than just a poorly-done assignment or flunked test — a misunderstanding of the material, perhaps, or maybe trouble at home. In any case, whenever you see an F, there’s something that needs to be addressed.
Aroldis Chapman may have earned an F for his performance and antics, but in truth, this failure needs to be pinned on the Yankees. Coming into the season, Chapman was an enigma, one who had been lights-out for the first two months of the 2021 season, struggled after the league clamped down on pitchers using foreign substances (aka, the sticky stuff), and then was shaky in August before returning to his locked-down self in September. But, since he entered his age-34 season and began to lose miles per hour off his fastball, nobody knew what to expect from Chapman. As our very own Andrés Chávez wrote in the 2022 roster preview, “His outlook for this season is as ambiguous as it’s been during his time in the Bronx.”
When you look at his April splits, Chapman’s performance early in the season looks pretty good: in 8.1 innings, he struck out 11, allowed just two hits, and recorded five saves. Those who watched the games, however, know that he got bailed out big-time. Michael King needed just five pitches to bail him out of a bases-loaded (all three reached on walks), nobody out jam on April 14th, then walked in the winning run the very next day (a run that was charged to Clarke Schmidt, saving Chapman’s line).
His struggles continued in May, and this time, and by the time he hit the injured list with an Achilles tendon injury, he had begun to cede the closer’s job to Clay Holmes. He missed the whole month of June and struggled upon his return in July, posting a 9.95 ERA (7.69 FIP) with nine strikeouts and seven walks in 6.1 innings in his first eight games back. From July 23rd to August 16th, however, he began to settle into his middle relief role, as he did not allow a run in ten appearances. With the team in disarray and desperate for somebody to solidify the bullpen, the Yankees once again turned to Chapman in big spots on the 17th and 19th...and he proceeded to once again come up small.
A few days later, the most baffling moment of Chapman’s career occurred, as he went on the injured list due to an infection that resulted from a tattoo. While, technically, it did not end his Yankees career, it may as well have. Although his numbers when he returned from the IL were actually pretty good (he gave up just two hits in 5.2 innings, although he did walk six), the Yankees were clearly not satisfied, and according to Joel Sherman, even discussed the possibility of designating him for assignment for the roster spot. Eventually, with his postseason roster spot not guaranteed, Chapman opted not to attend mandatory team workouts and was told to stay home for the playoffs.
To top it all off, the team wasn’t all that surprised he went AWOL, either.
Cashman said he was shocked at first about Chapman & then not. “There's some questions about whether he's been all in or not for a little while. He’s maintained verbally, but the actions don't match those words.“— James Wagner (@ByJamesWagner) October 9, 2022
Yea, that’s not a good look.
As far as seasons go, it’s hard to script a worse one than this for Chapman, who definitely saw his Yankees career end (and, depending on how desperate teams are for left-handed arms, perhaps his major league one as well) through his stubbornness. But, like I said at the beginning, although Chapman put in the work to get the bad grade, for taking so long to cut bait with an inconsistent reliever who obviously was not invested in the team’s success, the Yankees are the ones that deserve an F.