Many fans think of Gerrit Cole as the most affected pitcher after MLB’s decision to crack down on the use of foreign substances on the ball last June. But that unofficial title should belong to Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman, who was far from his dominant self after the league implemented the new restrictions.
On June 14, it came out that pitchers who were caught using substances such as “Spider Tack” during games would face ejection and a 10-game suspension. The use of the famous “sticky stuff” is directly associated with increased spin rates, but most notably, with a better grip. Chapman’s control was historically bad after MLB started to pay more attention to the issue, something that must trouble the Yankees as the veteran looks to bounce back from an inconsistent campaign.
2021 Stats: 56.1 IP, 3.36 ERA, 3.99 FIP, 1.31 WHIP, 15.50 K/9, 6.07 BB/9, 1.44 HR/9, 0.6 fWAR
2022 ZiPS Projections: 64 IP, 2.98 ERA, 3.19 FIP, 1.19 WHIP, 15.43 K/9, 5.26 BB/9, 1.05 HR/9, 1.6 fWAR
Chapman’s 2021 season started like he was a man on a mission. From the start of the season until June 12 (23.1 frames), his ERA was 1.93 and his FIP 2.57. He struck out 16.6 batters per nine innings and walked 4.24, and he didn’t allow his first earned run until May 23.
From June 15 onwards, after MLB revealed its intentions (the bans started to be enforced from June 21 on) the Cuban Missile logged 33 innings, in which he had a 4.36 ERA (4.99 FIP) and a 27/54 BB/K ratio. Although he kept inducing whiffs (14.7 strikeouts per nine frames), he handed out a staggering 7.4 walks per nine.
Overall, Chapman had his worst season since 2011, with a 3.36 ERA with a 3.99 FIP (the highest mark of his career) and 6.1 BB/9. Yes, he struck out 15.50 per nine, but just couldn’t be trusted to consistently throw strikes. At times, he abused his breaking ball and splitter because he had zero trust in his fastball command.
Aroldis Chapman says the loss of control on his fastball has contributed to his struggles of late— Yankees Videos (@snyyankees) July 1, 2021
"For me you've got to keep working at it...especially with the fastball. Find myself again with that pitch and come back and return to being the Chapman that started the season" pic.twitter.com/90nTl8sTZO
For all his issues, though, he did post a manageable 4.73 BB/9 the last month of the season, where he had a 2.03 ERA. And guess what? His second half ERA was 2.03, too. But things got ugly at times, in particular the period directly after the stick stuff crackdown.
Which Chapman will we see in 2022? The one from the first two and a half months of 2021? Or the one who had no idea where the ball was going? The answer, as always, is probably somewhere in between, but that may not be enough to make him the unquestioned closer in New York, or a shutdown reliever for that matter. His outlook for this season is as ambiguous as it’s been during his time in the Bronx.
Chapman did start spring training on the right foot, throwing a hitless inning Friday against the Phillies. He averaged 97 mph on his fastball, and opposing hitters whiffed on five of their seven swings in the frame.
Aroldis Chapman, Slider and Fastball, Individual Pitches + Overlay pic.twitter.com/3ZU2cenThY— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) March 25, 2022
For now, he is still the Yankees’ closer. He is getting paid like one. However, in an effort to keep him fresh, focused, and engaged, manager Aaron Boone announced he is considering using him more in the eighth inning this season. “It will serve him well at times and protect other guys at times,” Boone stated. “It will help us as a staff and keep Aroldis more regular rather than let him get to five, six days without pitching.”
In the end, with Chapman, it all comes down to fastball command. If he can trust his bread-and-butter pitch, he should have a much better season overall in 2022. If not, well, things could fall apart in a hurry.
To reach the postseason and, hopefully, well beyond that, the Yankees need Chapman at his best, fully capable of trusting all his pitches and going after hitters the way we have all grown accustomed to. His control and command will be closely monitored not only by the manager and coaches, but by baseball fans as a whole. In the end, Chapman is too good not to have some sort of rebound, and he will be highly motivated to put up his best possible numbers in a contract year.