It feels felt Aroldis Chapman had barely contributed for the Yankees this year before going down with an Achilles injury on May 24th. Even when he has played in 202, it has been with the type of mediocre verve that fits a middle reliever. To wit, he has a perfectly fine basic stat line of 6 runs allowed in 14 innings pitched with a 3.86 ERA. Those numbers are not terrible, but they certainly could be a whole lot better.
This all raises an important question about how Chapman should be used once he returns from the injured list. He made his second rehab appearance in Double-A yesterday and will return to the Yankees later this week after a stop in Triple-A, per Aaron Boone. With all of the outstanding bullpen options that the skipper has in his quiver though, should the Yankees trust Chapman with high-leverage situations when he returns from the injured list?
With how little Chapman has pitched this year, some of the analysis will necessarily be limited by the small sample size, but it should still indicate whether the Yankees can trust him in high-leverage situations. Unfortunately, the underlying metrics are not particularly kind to his performance this year. Batters have been able to see his pitches and barrel them up at fairly high rates. In total, 9.8 percent of the batted balls from him resulted in barrels. That's not a good thing!
Consequently, Chapman has the highest xBA and xSLG of his entire career up until this point, at .269 and .499 respectively. Even his walk rate remains stubbornly high at 15.2 percent, with an xwOBA at .373. Taken together, these numbers result in an xERA of 5.34, well above his actual ERA at 3.86. This might be the result of him being unable to locate his pitches effectively, as the pitch location visualizer shows (perhaps in part due to trying to pitch through his injury in May). With this rather lackluster performance, do the Yankees have other options to take on high-leverage situations?
Even with all of the injuries in the bullpen this year, the Yankees are not left without talented arms to rely upon. Discounting the cream of the crop in All-Star contenders Michael King and Clay Holmes (and up-and-comer Ron Marinaccio, who I discussed on Saturday), there are still several appealing options who have pitched rather effectively. Two fellow lefty relievers jump out immediately as able to fill important innings while Chapman rights the ship — those being Wandy Peralta and Lucas Luetge.
Peralta came over last year from the Giants and pitched quite well with a 2.95 ERA over the latter half of the 2021 season. He has only gotten better in 2022.
Over 27 innings through the start of play on Sunday (when he added another scoreless frame), Peralta has a sterling 2.33 ERA with only 7 earned runs with 8 walks and 17 hits, good for a 0.93 WHIP. All the indicators back up his performance. He is in the top 10 percent of the league or better in xERA (2.35), xBA (.204), xSLG (.311), and xwOBA(.256). He has been able to do so well because he manages to produce tons of soft contact with all three of his pitches (changeup, sinker, slider). While Peralta’s strikeout percentage is on the low end, the amount of soft contact allows him to be a very effective reliever.
Luetge has performed similarly, if a little worse, than Peralta. His ERA sits in a similar position to Chapman at 3.68, but with much better metrics. Over 22 innings, he has let up 10 runs to go with 8 walks and 22 hits. This results in a fairly bad 1.36 WHIP.
On the other hand, Luetge is consistently able to induce soft contact, being in the top three percent or better of the league in both average exit velocity and hard-hit percentage. Therefore, his xERA of 2.95 makes a lot of sense in the context of a .240 xBA and .354 xSLG. All of this adds up to the conclusion that Luetge can probably acquit himself nicely in high-leverage situations. While he has certainly had some bad luck with batted balls against him, the numbers indicate that he should perform exceptionally.
Aroldis Chapman has a long history of performing well as a reliever. However, the Yankees would do themselves a disservice by immediately throwing him into the fire in the most important parts of the game. Instead, there are several pitchers who can fill the need for high-leverage relievers.
Both Peralta and Luetge have performed well this season. It would behoove the Yankees to slowly ramp up Chapman to work in higher and higher leverage situations. At the same time, they can rely upon steady relief pitchers like Peralta and Luetge to continue to pitch in important situations. Using this strategy, the Yankees can ensure that Chapman has time and space to fix himself while not undermining the effectiveness of the bullpen.