An Aroldis Chapman fastball which crosses home plate at 105.1 mph isn’t an accident — it’s a meticulous craft.
Not only are arm speed and trajectory factors involved in throwing a baseball, but also strength and body movement, and for Chapman, who can perform leg lifts of nearly 1,000 pounds, there is a benefit of being an athlete rather than just a pitcher.
“What I recall is that it was when I was 16 when I noticed that I could throw hard,” Chapman told the YES Network via a translator. “I use a lot of my legs, my hips, my shoulders, my back, and I believe that’s one of the reasons why I’m able to throw as hard.”
Chapman made his spring debut on Thursday night against the Orioles in Tampa, pitching one scoreless frame with two strikeouts. Along with seeing triple-digits on the radar gun, Chapman’s stature and brawn has impressed his manager, too.
“You don’t see guys throwing 103 every day,” Joe Girardi told the New York Daily News. “I didn’t know how good of an athlete he was when you talk about the speed he has, and I’m sure the power he has when he hits. We were joking about it the other day. He was pretending to hold a bat, and I said maybe you can pinch-run. We had a good laugh about it. But he’s a really good athlete. To be able to repeat his delivery as hard as he’s throwing and with that arm speed is incredible.”
In seven major league seasons, Chapman has struck out 636 batters in only 377 innings. According to FanGraphs, his average fastball velocity hangs around 99 mph, and when throwing it, opposing hitters have reached base only 311 times in 1,167 plate appearances (.163 BA).
While a select few basketball players believe in the idea that the world is flat, baseball players know that Chapman’s pitches aren’t. In the grand scheme of things, a flat fastball is hittable, but the 29-year-old Cuban’s stuff dances, which gives catchers even more of a reason to stay on their toes. In 2016, 65.1 percent of Chapman’s 947 total pitches crossed the conventional strike zone, according to FanGraphs.
“100 [mph] is difficult to catch, but you can catch it. 105 is a different beast,” catcher Austin Romine told YES. “I turn into a hockey goalie, basically. It’s not straight, that’s the thing. Everyone thinks it’s straight. If you’re not focused, it’s dangerous, that’s 105 coming at you. Something’s gonna break if you miss.”
Gary Sanchez has never caught Chapman in a regular season game, but the 24-year-old has been conquering the challenge of holding onto those fastballs this spring.
“Catching Chapman, I’ve got to tell you, feels like you’re catching a building block,” Sanchez told YES. “Sometimes he tells me, ‘Hey, I’m gonna take it easy, it’s gonna be a nice, soft bullpen.’ Once we get to it, he’s throwing 95. For some guys, 95 is the hardest they can throw. For Chapman, 95 … he’s just warming up.”
2017 will be Chapman’s second time around in New York, as he signed a five-year, $86 million free agent deal with the Yankees this winter. But the new season will also be Chapman’s first time pitching in pinstripes during April, as he was suspended 30 games last year for violating MLB’s domestic violence policy.
Chapman told reporters this winter that Cubs manager Joe Maddon overused him during Chicago’s World Series run, but the health of Girardi’s flamethrowing closer isn’t an issue.
“There’s plenty of time for him to get plenty of appearances. There’s no rush,” Girardi told NYDN. “You might even see him at some point throw a bullpen in-between them. He’ll be ready for the season.”