What started out as a dominant 2021 campaign for New York Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman has ultimately gone off the rails in the past few weeks.
Chapman did not allow a run through his first 18 innings of his season. He only gave up one run in his first 23 innings, converting 12 out of 13 saves with a 0.39 ERA during this span.
However, after a rough appearance on June 10, where he blew a save against the Minnesota Twins, while allowing four runs, Chapman has completely lost his touch on the mound.
Since that ugly outing, the left-hander has blown two saves, and posted an 11.42 ERA. He has also surrendered three home runs and 10 walks in his last 8.2 innings, while giving up 11 earned runs in his past 5.2 innings alone.
The All-Star closer hit rock bottom on Wednesday night against the Los Angeles Angels when he entered the ninth inning with a four-run lead in a non-save situation. Chapman recorded only one out, and walked three batters to load the bases, before allowing a game-tying grand slam to Jared Walsh.
His ERA on the season has shot up to 3.77, a full 3.38 points over the course of the past three weeks. And it has gotten to the point where his closer’s role is dangerously close to being in jeopardy.
So, how can a guy who has looked unhittable for the majority of his career become this lost?
According to Chapman, he has lost command of his overpowering fastball, which has led opposing hitters to produce a .319 batting average against this pitch, per Baseball Savant.
“Tonight, I was just struggling trying to command my fastball,” said Chapman after his latest debacle on Wednesday. “The control, it's tough when you're trying to control your fastball and you're trying to get strikes with it, but you're not getting it. So yeah, definitely a struggling moment for me.”
Due to this rough stretch, Chapman ranks in the bottom 1% in the league with a 16.7%-barrel percentage and has the worst walk percentage of his career at 15.6%. He is also sporting the worst hard-hit percentage of his big-league career with a 38.9% clip.
Chapman’s spin-rate on his fastball is down from 2,451 rpms in 2020, to 2,437 rpms this year, which has seen his whiff% decrease from 42% to 28.7%.
Spin-rate has been down across the board for big-league pitchers ever since MLB cracked down on the use of illegal sticky substances. However, Chapman’s decrease has not been severely significant, and the key for him getting back on track relies on the southpaw regaining the command of his four-seam.
“The main problem like I said is the control of my fastball, everything balances out from the fastball and you mentioned the walks and the homers and the runs,” said Chapman. “That's the main difference. The reason is the control of the fastball. When you're trying to locate and use that pitch and it's not where you want it, you run into trouble and I think that's the main cause for me now. You gotta keep working at it, you gotta find your level point again, especially with the fastball, and find myself again with with that pitch. And come back and return to be the Chapman that started the season.”
The 33-year-old must also find a way to cut down on issuing walks, and reducing hard contact, which are both areas that batters are finding success against him.
The Yankees need Chapman to turn things around as soon as possible. But time is running out fast with their season on the line. If he doesn’t figure it out soon, it could lead to the loss of his closer’s job.
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