When the Yankees signed Aroldis Chapman to a five-year, $86 million contract in the winter of 2016, many fans and writers were skeptical. How would his velocity hold up over five years? What kind of arm fatigue would there be after being overused by Joe Maddon deep into October?
Early on in 2017, Chapman didn’t do much to quell those concerns. He went on the disabled list in May, and when he returned he pitched so poorly that Joe Girardi removed him from the closer role in August. Some writers and fans were already digging his grave, saying that the contract was a bust, and that relying on sheer velocity year after year wasn’t sustainable.
Eight months later, Aroldis Chapman has silenced the critics and shown that he is worth every penny of that contract.
What impresses me most about Chapman was how he responded to that demotion last year. He accepted blame, continued to work hard, and was reinstated into the closers role in September.
Chapman was absolutely lights out in the playoffs when it mattered most, allowing just one run over nine innings and striking out ten. His six-out save in game five of the ALDS on the road against the Indians was one of the most impressive saves I’ve ever seen, and I’ll never forget him screaming into the night after he blew a 101 MPH fastball past Austin Jackson to send the Yankees to the ALCS.
Entering 2018, there were more questions about how Chapman would hold up after another deep playoff run. So far, those questions have been muted, as Chapman has pitched to a 1.48 ERA while converting 13 of 14 save opportunities. He is striking out a ridiculous 16.3 hitters per nine innings, which would easily be a career best if he is able to maintain that clip through the summer months.
Chapman’s also using his slider a lot more, which is keeping hitters off-balance because they now have another pitch to contend with. According to Brooks Baseball, Chapman is using his slider at a 23.88 percent clip this season, up from 19.72 percent last year.
When Chapman comes into the game, fire flames fill up the Yankee Stadium video boards, and the game is over. The Yankees have been spoiled rotten with closers. Sparky Lyle, Goose Gossage, Andrew Miller, and of course, the greatest reliever to ever pick up a baseball, Mariano Rivera.
As spoiled as we have been at this position, we currently have the best closer in the game, and should appreciate him while he’s still hurling 103 mile-per-hour missiles.