For the past several years, the Yankees have had the luxury of relying on a star-studded bullpen every October. The starting rotation has struggled to perform in the last few postseasons, but the team’s relievers have pitched at a consistently high level. Unfortunately, things could be a bit different in the 2020 playoffs.
I think it’s safe to say that this Yankee bullpen doesn’t have the same pedigree that past ‘pens did. The 2020 playoff roster won’t have names like Robertson, Betances, or Kahnle. Other names, like Ottavino, inspire considerably less confidence today than they did in the past.
Things, though, are certainly not all bad. Chad Green and Zack Britton, both All-Star-calibre relievers, have been really good for New York this year. The Yanks have also gotten quality innings out of Jonathan Loaisiga and Luis Cessa. If Green, Britton, Loaisiga, and Cessa all pitch to their potential, the Bombers should have a pretty solid bullpen in October.
The Closer’s the Key
While every reliever will be important in the playoffs, I believe that Chapman will be the critical piece in the Yankees’ postseason ‘pen. As the closer, Chapman has always had the greatest responsibility on the staff. This year, however, he’ll have less help than he’s ever had on the back end. If Aroldis can secure the last 3-6 outs on a nightly basis, then the Yankees will have a much better chance of winning the World Series.
The trouble is that we’ve hardly seen Chapman in the 2020 regular season. As a result, it’s difficult to predict exactly what he’ll do when his number is called in the playoffs. Will he control the strike zone? Will his velocity be there every night? These are important questions, and the answers aren’t entirely clear right now. Nevertheless, I believe there are several good reasons to be confident in Chapman.
Chapman’s 2020 By the Numbers
Because he spent the early part of the season recovering from Covid-19, Aroldis has appeared in just 12 games this year. Here are his numbers in what is admittedly a pretty small sample size:
10.2 Innings Pitched
4 ER (3.38 ERA)
Interestingly, Chapman’s stats in this abbreviated season match up rather closely with his combined stats for the 2017, 2018, and 2019 seasons:
If this year’s numbers are any indication, then Chapman seems to be roughly the same guy in 2020 that he was during his previous three campaigns. The continuity between Chapman’s stats this year and the last few years should provide some reassurance to more skeptical Yankee fans.
The Need for Speed (and Control)
Chappy has worked hard to develop his slider, and it has definitely become a strong secondary pitch. That being said, Aroldis will always live and die by his fastball. While Chapman’s velocity has slowly deteriorated as he’s gotten older, the good news is that his speed hasn’t tapered off by much in 2020.
This season, Chapman’s average fastball is clocking in at 97.7 mph, which is just a bit lower than the 98.0 mph he averaged in 2019. As he throws more innings and gets into the rhythm of playoff baseball, there’s good reason to believe that that velocity may climb a little higher.
As far as control is concerned, Chapman seems to be doing just fine. He’s thrown 51.3% of his 187 pitches in the strike zone this season, which matches up to what he’s done in the past (51.0% in 2019, 47.9% in 2018, 52.9% in 2017). When Aroldis is wild, he makes things easy for the opposition. His lower walk rate this season is evidence that he hasn’t been beating himself. If that trend continues, he should be very effective in the playoffs.
This is Chapman’s Moment
The Bombers have never needed Chapman as much as they do this year. Aroldis has been excellent for the Yankees in the past three postseasons, but a great showing in 2020 would be particularly impactful given the team’s uncertain pitching situation. Let’s hope we see something special from Chapman when the playoffs start next week.