Don’t look now, but Yankees’ reliever - and former closer - Aroldis Chapman has looked sharp in recent outings. He still has a long way to go before being considered a trustworthy, matchup-proof pitcher again, but the numbers and the eye test tell us that he might be turning things around.
His full season ERA is still high at 4.28, and his FIP is an even worse 4.80. Those aren’t the numbers of an elite reliever. He has 18 walks in just 27.1 innings. However, there have been positive signs recently.
Chapman is carrying a seven-game scoreless streak with a 1/6 BB/K ratio since allowing three runs in Baltimore on July 22. In these seven games, his zone rate is 45.8 percent, better than his career mark, and way above his overall rate of 37.9 percent for the season. He’s been finding the zone again in recent weeks.
It’s obviously not a tiny sample, but the road back has to start somewhere. Seven innings for a reliever are not completely insignificant.
Chapman still misses badly with a breaking ball or a fastball on occasion, but overall, he seems to be improving. It’s baby steps for him, but so far, so good, at least since that July 22 outing. To get a better sense of the progress he’s made, let’s examine a recent at-bat against Kyle Lewis, the 2020 AL Rookie of the Year.
Chapman opened the at-bat with a fastball to the inside corner, but misses for a ball.
With the count 1-0, he threw a 98-mph fastball that bit the outside corner of the zone. The umpire called it with the help of catcher José Treviño. It was a good pitch, far from the fat part of the zone but still at the edge of it. Chapman needed a strike to avoid a 2-0 count, and he got it.
The next offering was a 1-1 slider that landed out of the zone for a ball, but it was a good take by Lewis. When the ball left Chapman’s hand, it looked like a strike.
Chapman then went upstairs with a 98-mph four-seam fastball that looked a tad outside, but once again Treviño helped him, and the umpire called the strike. This is just a difficult pitch to do anything with.
The 2-2 pitch was a four-seamer at 100 mph that was juuust down. Again, solid execution from Chapman.
After a foul on a 99-mph fastball, the left-hander threw a nice 89-mph slider that painted the inside corner, and Lewis swung and missed for the strikeout in a full count.
It was a competitive at-bat in which Chapman avoided the fat part of the zone with all of his pitches, showed good velocity (although still not quite at his best), and ended up with a strikeout in a tough battle against a righty. In other circumstances, you could almost smell the walk coming, but this time, he showed grit to fight his way through the plate appearance and keep his composure.
Again, he will still have that ugly slider that doesn’t break or a fastball completely out of the zone, but he appears to be throwing the ball in the zone more often, and with more confidence.
Here is his pitch chart of a game against the Kansas City Royals on July 30:
And here is one from August 1 against the Mariners:
As you can see, he has been throwing more strikes and trusting his stuff.
He will have to extend his scoreless streak or keep up his current good run of form for an extended period of time while getting more strikeouts before we officially consider him “back.” But he seems more confident, too, as he ended the Lewis at-bat with his trademark ‘stare.’
For the Yankees, getting that stare back would be incredibly valuable with the stretch run and the playoffs in mind. The southpaw needs to remember he is Aroldis Chapman, dominant late-inning reliever™.