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Who should be closing in the playoffs if the Yankees get there?

Let me preface this by saying, I don’t necessarily think that Chapman should instantly lose his job. Between Rougie’s misplay at third and the puzzling decision to throw nothing but sliders, I don’t think the the Atlanta meltdown is 100% on him.

However, Chapman has battled inconsistency all year and is recently coming off of an elbow injury. Gaining confidence in your pitches and location – especially when you throw 100+ mph – takes time. All of this I get. If this continues though, eventually the uncomfortable conversation has to happen. Who takes the ball in the 9th inning come a hypothetical October run?

Look, I know a lot has to happen for this to be a real conversation. One of the best closers in the history of the game has to continue to implode. Loaisiga has to continue to dominate. Even after all of this, the Yankees still have to MAKE the playoffs – which is far from guaranteed.

Bottom line is this. Regardless of who it comes down to, this can not ever happen. You only get away with this so many times, especially in the postseason. With that being said, Chapman is the closer on this team for the foreseeable future. Chad Green is not going to take his spot. Zack Britton is not going to take his spot. Only one guy even has a remote chance to unseat Aroldis. Jonathan Loaisiga. This is a two horse race down the stretch. Jonathan Loaisiga vs Aroldis Chapman.

The case for Jonathan Loaisiga

Who better to replace a Hall of Famer than the best reliever on the team? In 62.2 innings, he carries a 2.30 ERA and a 2.37 FIP – both of which are in the top 25 of all relievers with at least 30 IP. For the stat nerds out there, his Baseball Savant number are also out of this world. Loaisiga currently ranks in the 90+ percentile in 9 of the 15 categories measured. Below are his full percentile rankings for anyone who cares about the analytics stuff…

Avg Exit Velo – 99th
Max Exit Velo – 24th
xwOBA – 99th
xERA – 98th
xBA – 93rd
xSLG – 98th
Barrel % – 97th
K% – 56th
BB% – 89th
Whiff% – 64th
Chase Rate – 99th
Fastball Velo – 99th
Fastball Spin -71st
Curve Spin 71st

In the event that you’re not an analytics guy or gal, I’ll sum that up for you. Incredible. Loaisiga isn’t just the best reliever on the team right now, he’s one of the best in the game. According to his WAR, he’s actually the single best reliever in baseball this year.

Oh yeah. He’s also proven he can do it on the biggest stage. 100 mph sinker under the hands to end the game? No thank you. Point blank, the man is absolutely disgusting. He’s the perfect example of the “if he can ever locate he’ll be amazing” guy. Guess what? He can locate now, and Jonathan Loaisiga is one of the most dominant Yankee pitchers we have watched come out of the bullpen in recent memory.

You can’t argue the stuff. It passes both the eye test and the analytics test. The only knock on Loaisiga is the lack of doing it in the playoffs. If there was ever a year to try out a weapon like this in the postseason though, the wacky 2021 year is the time to do it.

The case for Aroldis Chapman

Like I said before, this is a two horse race. Chapman is the superstar incumbent who likely will not lose his job. To be dethroned in the playoffs, I truly believe that Chapman would have to have a June-esque breakdown again through September.

However, this is not to bash Chapman. This is the case for him to close in the postseason. If Chapman can revert back to even a shell of the guy who allowed one run in his first 23 games, there’s no reason not to trust him in October.

Yes, I painfully remember the last two years. However, Chapman’s October numbers as a whole are pretty rock solid. In 35 games, Chapman owns a 2.40 ERA and a .189 Batting Average Against. Much like his regular season struggles, the brunt of the issues stem from throwing consistent strikes.

When he’s on and throwing strikes, this splitter is a legitimate weapon. Recency bias has a lot of fans, myself included at times, forgetting that for a while, we thought the splitter was going to be a career changer. It still can be! The single most important part of his game is confidence. When Aroldis Chapman is confident in all three of his pitches, very few in the game are better. Find that confidence headed down the stretch, locate pitches, knock off the rust from the elbow inflammation, and you have yourself a top tier closer.

My solution

I say MY solution because 1) I obviously don’t make the decisions no matter how bad I want to, and 2) because I don’t believe that Aaron Boone and the analytics nerds have the balls to make the move. Despite being one of the best closers of all time, I don’t believe that Chapman has it… Right now. If it were me, I would use September as a trial run for Loaisiga, while simultaneously letting Chapman work back from his injury.

Basically, what I am proposing is a split role for the time being. If Chapman finds his groove, and becomes that dominant three-pitch pitcher again, he 100 percent should start off as the closer come October. If he struggles with his command and finds himself in more situations where he’s throwing 30 sliders in an inning, I believe that you have to go with Loaisiga.

October is no time to protect guys’ egos. When you have a guy who is dotting 100 mph sinkers sitting in the bullpen and also closing games efficiently, you have to turn him loose. Think of this as a football QB battle. Right or wrong, the experienced veteran has a leg up (i.e. the Chicago Bears starting Andy Dalton over Justin Fields). We’ve seen guys take over preseason, we’ve seen guys take over midseason, we’ve seen teams swap back and forth. This is what we’re headed toward for the rest of the season, whether you like it or not.

This is going to (hopefully) be a battle of the hot hand. Saddle up and get ready to sweat out the 9th inning a few more times before this is 100 percent settled.